A Writer Asks a Question...
And it's a good one!
I’m ridiculously happy to get a question from one of our aspiring memoirists, who sits down to work every day with the best of intentions. “I feel like I have so much in me, so much experience. But nothing comes out! I know this sounds silly, but I just don’t know where to begin.”
There’s not a writer in the world unfamiliar with this phenomenon. And I can think of a few things based on my own experience that might help.
Forget about creating a great first line. I’ve wasted much time waiting for some Hemingway-esque first line. The problem is I don’t have such a line in me. I’m not Hemingway. I’m not anybody but me. And I can only write as well as I can write at any given time. Waiting for inspiration from on high is useless. And trying too hard is never helpful.
Here’s what I suggest when beginning a new essay. Recall something that happened in the past that you find meaningful in some way. The death of a pet. Your first day of the ninth grade. That time you cheated on a math test. A bad date. A good date. Whatever it is. Then put yourself into the situation in the first person present tense and begin to tell your story.
The essay I posted recently called “Dining Out” begins: “I’m sitting with my parents in a restaurant only a few miles from where I grew up.” It ain’t Hemingway, that’s for sure. But it was sufficient to get me started. And I found myself quite naturally, without conscious effort, describing what dinner at a restaurant with my parents is like. Stuff that’s happening in the present leads to a series of reflections and recollections, which in turn lead back to our conversation at the table in the restaurant. And so a kind of rhythm is established (I hope), as a conversation with my parents becomes in turn, a conversation with the reader.
None of this was planned in advance. I’m not smart enough to figure any of this out in advance. But if you just let yourself go, you’ve got a much greater chance of creating something that will surprise you, and gratify you, and make you proud. Writers it goes without saying are sensitive people. Sensitive people are by definition deeply impressionable. Such people always have a great storehouse of especially vivid feelings and memories which are the stuff of effective memoirs.
We’ve all got plenty of material in us. Put yourself into the middle of an ongoing story (the story of your life), by using the first person person present tense. That will give you an opening, and you can move on from there!