Creative Writing and Memoir Writing September 15, 2021

Welcome Back! from Carol Brennan King

It has been a while since we have been together and it was great to see you in person and via Zoom.

In person people – please note that you can bring your laptop or tablet to class, and set it to zoom so that you can see the rest of the class. This will be especially useful to you when our zoom family reads their work.

Now to the Creative Writing Class. In reality these notes will be helpful to all of you as you set up your writing space for success.

Today we talked abut planning for success by prepping your place and you.

You might want to copy and print this outline and put it where you can see it when you come to work each day.

  1. Get hydrated or bring what will keep you hydrated as you write, so you don’t have to leave the work when you get thirsty. And if you like an energy boost in the middle of your writing time, bring it along.
  2. Get comfortable – if you like sweats or PJ’s, whose going to see you? And if it helps you to write, wear it. I like to prep myself as if I might meet a co-worker. I want to feel like this is my job, so I dress that way. It helps me. It may not you, but we have to take ourselves seriously as writers. This works for me.
  3. Clear of your desk, at least the stuff that does not enhance this writing experience. Shove it into a basket. Or if you are one of those people that don’t collect clutter, you have already filed it appropriately. Me, I have a handy basket.
  4. Get rid of distractions, like your phone. Shut the ringer off, and you might want to think about all those other great interrupters, like that signal that announces you have a message or a package.
  5. If music helps you shut out the world of distraction, by all means, make a play list or find a station. I work better without music, but that’s me.
  6. Open your document and shut the others. I have a caveat here. If you need some research that you have already done, you can open that. Just be careful of opening anything not relevant to what you need to write.
  7. Get comfortable in your seat. One of the best things that happened for me in this area was a new chair. I tend to have back issues, especially if I am tensing up while I write. I tried a bunch of chairs and Jim found the one I am now loving on Amazon…it has changed my writing life. I just don’t think about comfort while I am writing anymore. And I have learned to do some meditating. Emptying my mind of distractions. There are loads of helps online if you want some hints…or ask me.
  8. And then we talked about affirmations. above I talked about taking yourself seriously as a writer. Positive talk works. Check out this quote.

Affirmations are proven methods of self-improvement because of their ability to rewire our brains. Using positive affirmations can help us to keep focused on our inner goals. The more determined you are to make a change the better they will work for you. Apr 26, 2018

from: Self-Esteem and the Importance of Positive Affirmations – The … › blog 

So, for next week: Think about a story you are writing or want to write. Now you have between 100- and 500 words to introduce your protagonist and give us aa look at where he is, or where she is. You owe it to your writer to show them early on who is the center of the action and where it all begins.

Write the scene so that we learn something about what this key person looks like, who they are and where they are in this scene. Think:

John Mc Nair lumbered into the room, ducking his head in the doorway, noting in the foyer mirror as he passed it, that his bright red cowlick practically touched the ceiling. He pulled a glove off, licked the tips of the fingers on his right hand, and patted the hair down as he dropped onto one end of the brown leather sofa. He glanced around the room, noting the shelves and shelves of books, old books on one side of the room, some with cracked leather spines, new ones, paper back and hard back with colorful spines. He rose to look more closely at the books when Mrs. Finley, the housekeeper entered silently except for the rattle of cups and saucers, a plate of biscuits and a teapot crowding a silver platter.

“The doctor will be right down,” she said, “and I will be back with the sugar and cream.” John eyed the shortbread and tea wondering if he was meant to help himself now or wait for the doctor.

Do you get the idea? Well, happy writing and I look forward to seeing you next week.

Memoir Writing

We talked a bit about word count today – for various genres. just to understand what to aim for.

An average short story runs anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words, but as you know there are markets for work even under 1,000 words – pieces known as flash fiction or short shorts.

A novella is anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000, a novelette between 7,500 and 17,000 words. Both of these types of stories are often sold in collections of three or more. I tell you this because some memoirists also wander into historical fiction – works based on things the author has experienced, or in my case, works based on the lives of family members and events that took place before my birth.

Memoirs generally are in the same range as a novel: between 60,000 and 80,000 words, though if you have browsed the memoir shelf in the library or bookstory, you have seen memoirs much shorter, like in the 40,000 word range. Check out some of Joan Didion’s work or Mitch Album’s.

Just remember, every word must belong in the piece and move the story along. We are prone, when writing memoirs, to tell all of the stories that have entertained us, that we like to tell, rather than only the ones that support our premise, the reason someone picked your book up to read. Perhaps the ones we might be too embarrassed to tell, but should.

Then we talked about the necessity of having a premise for your memoir. A premise is a two-or three sentence statement of the book’s basic concept or thesis. Usually, it identifies the need and then proposes a solution. or think of it as the statement that summarizes what happens to the characters as a result of the actions of the story.

For instance: Sometimes evacuations, as painful as they may be, are the only road to a better life.

A premise and a plot are t wo different entities. “The premise and the plot of a book are two different things. The premise is the concept of the book. The plot, on the other hand, is what happens in the book — all the events that make up the story.” from,that%20make%20up%20the%20story.

You must be able to come up with a premise for your work, especially if you want to market it. That premise is one of the first things an agent, editor, or publisher will ask you for.

For next week: Write the first 300 to 500 words of your memoir – one under way or one you want to write, introducing the protagonist and giving a clear sense of where this scene is taking place. And give some time to work on some premise possibilities for your current project.

So here’s the tentative first draft of the memoir I am working on:

Men mostly in long loose white shirts and pants,  crowds of men pushing through the streets, pushing against the steel fences, pushing their way toward freedom, fear of the Taliban and their brutality driving them there to the airport at Kabul, Afghanistan. No women, no children, in the crowds yet, just men pushing their way, the crowds like a many legged insect, fighting for their freedom from for some, certain death, for others the freedom to believe what they wanted and the freedom from persecution. I could see a few women in close-ups, but mostly it was men in that shot on the television.

 CNN “no copyright infringement is intended”

That’s what I saw day-after-day on the news as I sat in the safety of the couch in my living room watching on our wide screen television, the images, some in close-ups nearly life-size in my  home in faraway Pennsylvania. The fragrance of cookies baking in the oven disappears as I find myself remembering, the smell of chocolate chip cookies replaced by the smell of sweaty bodies and fear though the latter odors came from my reality long ago.  I wondered, I feared, for the women behind the doors now, not in the crowds yet, but still behind the walls, the women and the children who were no less fearful, perhaps more fearful of what the new Taliban regime would mean for them.

Then I woke up crying two days later, filled with recovered fear from the day I was part of a crowd of women and children trying to find our way out of a country at war. Memories flooded back of packing suitcases for my three children and myself, trying to think about what we would need if we lost our suitcases and stuffing that in backpacks, trying not to own the reality that this was one journey I was going to take our children on by myself through the borders of war to safety.

See you next week!

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