Hello Again, Memoir and Family History Writers

New posts have been few and far between around here lately, but there are some good reasons for that.

First, I’ve been working with a talented copywriter to expand this website to function as more than a blog. With my webmaster, we’re revamping the entire site and making changes based on what memoir and family history writers (as well as sincere wannabes) have told us they want and need.

Second, I’ve been focusing on writing personal essays. As a memoir and family history writer, I’ve learned it can be useful to start small. As in, with an essay.

That means you don’t have to think in terms of writing an entire memoir or history of your family. You can break your project into small parts by writing individual essays. For example, you can write a short piece about:

• The jobs you’ve held,
• The houses you’ve lived in, or even
• The pets you’ve loved.

Of course you can write short but challenging essays, such as:

• What you wish you’d told your parents when you were a kid,
• Why you chose the wrong career, or
• The reasons an important relationship failed.

For more prompts to get you writing short pieces—personal essays—take a look at: Supercharge Your Life Writing With These Ideas.

For a sample essay about family see, On Family, Chosen Family, and Sisterhood.

If you need help getting started on your memoir, essays, or family history, check out what others say about working with me, and get in touch.

And subscribe to this website to be notified of new posts to help you in your memoir, essay, or family history writing. They’re on their way.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Write That Memoir, Life Story, or Family History. Now.

That's me, Lynette Benton

That’s me, Lynette Benton

Know you should start or finish your memoir, stories from your life, or family history, but can’t seem to get up enough steam for the task?

Ease over to Bookcoaching.com to see the tips I offer in my guest post. They can get you going.

– Lynette

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Talking Memoir with Writing Instructor, Coach, and Publisher Brooke Warner, Part 1

As a memoir writer, as well as a memoir coach myself, I’ve followed Brooke Warner’s work on behalf of memoir and memoir writers for years. It’s a pleasure to welcome her here so you can learn more about her varied work, including publishing.
– Lynette

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

You’re a writing instructor, coach, and publisher. Can you distinguish among those roles?
BW: I teach memoir classes mostly, and sometimes classes on publishing, either online or in-person. As a coach I work with authors one-on-one, both on their writing and the emotional challenges that go along with writing. I’m a teacher, editor, champion, and midwife.

As publisher of She Writes Press, I’m more of a book shepherd than a coach. I still champion our authors, but my role is more directive, because I’m helping them with their books’ covers and positioning. I sometimes feel like more of a bossy older sister than a mother hen in this role.

You have experience in traditional publishing; you’ve been a speaker at writing and publishing conferences, and have expertise particularly in memoir, but also in other genres. What do you tell audiences about publishing?

I tell them that it’s really hard to get a traditional publishing deal these days. I hope I paint a mostly optimistic picture, however, because opportunities abound in the current publishing climate. But the book publishing world looks a lot different than it did even 15 years ago.

I educate aspiring authors about their options and what the different publishing paths might look like. I try to give them a dose of reality without squashing their dreams, because I’m strongly invested in the dream of authorship. I just believe that some authors need to reframe how that’s going to happen.

Please tell us about SheWrites.com and She Writes Press. What is the connection between them?

SheWrites.com is an online community for women writers worldwide. On the site, writers can connect with one another, post articles, and join groups. SheWrites.com was around for a few years before I contacted the cofounder, Kamy Wicoff, about starting She Writes Press. We built the press to complement the online platform. Authors don’t need to be a member of SheWrites.com to publish with us, but the two companies are inextricably linked in terms of their brand and their messaging—which is that they both exist as platforms for women’s voices.

This year’s theme for your collaboration with Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers, seems to be the Magic of Memoir. You’ve sponsored an essay contest, there’s the conference of the same name this month (October, 2016); and you’ve got the Magic of Memoir Anthology coming out in November. How do they fit together?

The contest was for The Magic of Memoir anthology, so those are one and the same. We did an open call for submissions for the anthology, for which you took home first place, Lynette. Congratulations!

Our second annual Magic of Memoir Conference, which took place October 15 – 16, in Oakland, California, makes Magic of Memoir more than a theme for this year. We’re making Magic of Memoir part of our brand.

We have a class called Write Your Memoir in Six Months, but we want to do a lot more around memoir than just our six-month course. The Magic of Memoir conference and website and book are allowing us to move into some more exciting content and ideas beyond our six-month course.

Please describe the Write Your Memoir in Six Months course.

This is our six-month online memoir intensive, which we run twice a year, with one class starting in January and one in June. (The next one begins in January 2017.) It’s blossomed into a lot more than just our six-month course.

Notably we also teach a Best-selling Memoir course each spring and summer. We’ve taught Wild, by Cheryl Strayed; Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert; Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt; The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr; and others. These short courses give writers an opportunity to learn what makes these memoirs work. They’re really fun.

Finally, we’ve been teaching a Mastering Memoir course once a year, which is a ten-week online course that’s faster-paced than Write Your Memoir in Six Months and exclusively focused on craft. The next one is starting in February 2017. So we feel that Write Your Memoir Six Months is the foundation for lots of other work we’re doing in memoir.

Note from Lynette:
Be sure you don’t miss Part 2 of this informative interview for all writers interested in starting, improving, or publishing their manuscripts.

See the list of authors who will be included in the Magic of Memoir anthology, which is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. The anthology will also feature interviews with best selling memoirists. Find out who they are here.
__________________

Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, How to Sell Your Memoir, co-author of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir, and co-editor of The Magic of Memoir Anthology. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com. Brooke lives and works in Berkeley, California.

Visit Brooke at www.brookewarner.com

Connect with Brooke on Social Media:
http://twitter.com/brooke_warner
http://facebook.com/warnercoaching
https://www.linkedin.com/in/warnercoaching
https://www.pinterest.com/warnercoaching
https://www.youtube.com/warnercoaching

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Examples of Boomers and Seniors Writing About Their Lives

As I’ve written in other posts here, I teach boomers and seniors (and others) to write stories from their lives. Our classes are moving, funny, exciting, suspenseful, and a whole lot of fun—and that describes the stories the students write.

When people tell me they have a pressing urge to write about their lives, but don’t know what to write about, I suggest they take a look at My Legacy is Simply This, a book of short essays by seniors living in various neighborhoods in Boston. The short essays were made possible by Grub Street, a prominent Boston writing institution, and the City of Boston. (Note: I have no affiliation with the publishers or writers of this book.)

No matter what age you are, these are stories you’ll enjoy, and what’s more, they can serve as examples for your own writing.

Among my favorites is the story of his dangerous career, recounted by William Boyle, a former fire fighter. As a young man, he helped quench the big Hotel Vendome fire, which killed nine Boston fire fighters, in 1972. Even after pulling dead coworkers out from the rubble, he still loved his work, especially because that day, he found his boyhood friend, alive in the debris.

Dorothy Parks is a woman who lives each day as if it were her last, as a result of the perils she faced in her travels, whether by train, ship, or air. Her essay is the funniest in the collection, as she recounts an absurd brush with death on an airplane with a wing on fire.

But most of those whose essays appear in the book write about ordinary aspects of their lives: their homes and hometowns, their children, their families, their careers.

If you’re looking for an engaging model for your own writing, consider reading this book. By the way, it’s one of five volumes sponsored by Grub Street and the City of Boston.

If you want to get the stories from your own life down on paper, I hope you’ll find the following posts helpful.

Writing Stories from Your Life
Supercharge Your Life Story with These Ideas
Teaching Creative Writing to Boomers and Seniors, Part 2

You don’t have to be a boomer or senior to join my Memoir Writing or my Writing Stories from Your Life classes. Just keep your eye on the Upcoming Teaching Events tab at the top of this page to see where and when I’ll be holding classes next.

Or, you can work with me privately, as many others have and do. Your choice. Just use the Contact tab at the top of this page to get in touch.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

I’m 1st Place Winner of the Magic of Memoir Essay Contest!

Sure, I’m grinning all over myself.

My essay, “No More Secrets and Silence,” was awarded 1st place in the Magic of Memoir Essay Contest, chosen from 185 submissions. My prize is $400, which has already arrived. And the essay will also be included in the forthcoming Magic of Memoir Anthology. That’s expected out in November 2016.

Here are the names of all the memoirists whose essays will appear in the anthology. You can also scroll down to see the bestselling memoirists whose interviews appear in the book.

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the collection (you can pre-order it now, as I have) and enjoy the essays written by all the memoirists included in it. We share the approaches we took to writing our memoirs, including obstacles we encountered and overcame—and we offer solutions that can help you in your writing, as well.

Please spread the word about the upcoming Magic of Memoir Anthology!

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Is Your Writing Being Rejected?

Been enduring an unnerving spate of rejections to your writing submissions? You’re not alone. Slide over to the Brevity Magazine blog to read about my own recent experiences submitting my work.

The essay is called Sixth Sense Submissions, or Publishing Blind.

Leave a comment if you can relate. Oh, and I hope you’ll take a look at the enlightening comments left by others. Thank you.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Who Let the Joy Out? Humph, Humph.

You’ve heard that expression (which always sounded to me like nothing more than an utterly fatuous promise) that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear?

I’d returned from the Muse and the Marketplace writers conference held earlier this month, in Boston, feeling first overwhelmed by the conference itself, then downright paralyzed. For days afterwards, I felt in a daze—my creative faculties on hold. And I suffered a deep unease, as if some vital element of my person was being snuffed out.

I couldn’t blame the conference. I’d been exposed to a lot of valuable experiences and ideas about writing and the writing life. (More on those in a later post.) But it was learning all this stuff, some new, some not, that contributed to a growing discontent I’d been feeling for some time.

Then I came across an essay by Ethan Gilsdorf, whose formidable writing creds bowled me over. (I mention this because I felt anyone with so large a reputation was taking a risk by going public about his failure to work on the writing project that’s called to him for years. At the Muse conference, I’d taken his “Writing the Risky Personal Essay” class. Clearly the man practices what he preaches.)

I couldn’t imagine any blog post speaking to my situation more directly and profoundly. In “This Blog Post is a Pep Talk,” Gilsdorf wrote:

“As writers, we … need to take pleasure in our work…. We need a project … to fall in love with again. The kind of low-pressure, it’s-OK-if-you-fail, writing for the joy of writing project.”

I stared at my computer screen, frozen. That was the poke, the permission I needed. Even though I’m a writing instructor, I’d paid so much attention to other people’s writing rules that I’d discounted my own authentic voice, lost faith in the writing that had gotten me published and garnered kudos and the occasional award in the past, and worst of all, let it stymie my joy in the writing process.

In my early career, I avoided writing classes because I feared they would exert too great an influence over my own style. But as I progressed, I felt I needed more skills in order to advance my writing. But one has to cherry pick what advice to take and what to leave in the orchard, and at some point, what with my extensive business and professional writing and absorbing so much advice from different people and trying to adhere to the rules, peculiar preferences, (and word counts!) of literary magazines and other publications, I no longer felt connected to the writing I was doing, nor did I enjoy the process of producing it.

If I want to regain my joy in writing, I need to refuse to let my writing for money or attempts to win prizes dampen my desire to write from the heart. To recapture joy in writing, I need to carve out time and mental space for the thinking and writing that means most to me, even if it doesn’t get published or isn’t otherwise acknowledged.

Gilsdorf didn’t offer any writing advice. Instead, he did what essayists are supposed to do: explored a personal subject and engaged his audience (primarily) of writers with that exploration.

By the way, for me, the personal exposure in this blog post makes it feel uncomfortably like a risky personal essay.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

The Interview, Part 1

I hated the company.

I was working at the company of my dreams. Unfortunately, my dreams had misled me. I hated the company. A lot of the employees did, so we were always feverishly exchanging job leads, exchanging tiny notices torn from the classifieds, and hunching over telephones to engage in whispered calls.

Finally, a small local company that published newsletters contacted me. They wanted an interview.

I was elated—except that I had the flu. My boss wouldn’t let me stay home. At the end of each day she’d say, “You have to come in tomorrow. I need you to write this or edit that. This report has to get out.”

Each night at home I’d lie flat on my back, still wearing my hat and scarf, my boots dangling from my feet over the edge of the bed. One morning, my husband Joe had to bundle me into my coat, propel me to the car, and drive me through a foot of new wet snow to the office park where I worked. Seated in front of my computer, I was terribly hot. I drank a lot of water. But at nine o’clock, my boss found me prostrate on the sofa in the company’s professionally decorated reception area.

She had stood over me, pencils protruding wildly from her hair, and declared, “I’ll get you some temporary help. All you have to do is supervise them.”

“I can’t,” I grunted.

“Then go home.”

“I can’t.”

When I came to, Joe was easing my feet into my boots and murmuring that he would bring the car right up to the door. I was to lie there and wait for him to come back inside and get me.

I was too ill to interview.

I had told the newsletter people I was too ill to interview, but they had been insistent. That should have been enough to convince me I didn’t want a job there. Hell, I already worked for an inconsiderate company. Now this newsletter company wanted me to interview, even though the receptionist I had spoken to there had several times murmured, “You sound terrible.”

Still lightheaded and shaky two days after my collapse at work, I donned a wool Neiman Marcus dress I had bought at a consignment shop. I can’t imagine what I found to wear on my feet to walk through the dingy snow that was barricading the curbs in the center of town.

Please continue reading The Interview, Part 2.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

The Interview, Part 2

The interviewers materialized.

At the newsletter company, four employees materialized into the open space of what had obviously been a factory devoted to light manufacturing at some time in the past. The three women wore wrinkled corduroy slacks, flannel shirts, and clogs. The man was dressed the same, except that he was wearing battered shoes with thick soles.

In a closed conference room the four told me what a wonderful place this was to work. They were like a family; several of them lived together. They did their shopping at the food co-op; did I know it?

Not only did I know it, I was a member!

They breathed sighs of friendship. What kind of writing did I do now? What were my editing responsibilities? they wanted to know.

My mouth answered; my head swam. Perspiration stealthily beaded my forehead. I was too sick to interview. And whose idea had it been for me to wear wool?

I thought, “I gotta get out of here.”

I said, “I hope we can talk again, since I’m not at my best today.”

“You’re doing great,” they chimed.

They faded before me. I could hear them, but I could barely make out what they were saying. I wasn’t sure what I was saying. It was as if we were speaking beneath the surface of the sea. Someone got me some water, and we all smiled.

One of them wondered aloud why I had had to work while I was ill. I replied that my boss had needed my help with an important project. (I felt it couldn’t hurt to seem indispensable.) They were looking at me benevolently, speaking slowly, and being very polite. I became suspicious, aware that the line between what I was thinking and what I had actually verbalized had blurred hopelessly. Had I absurdly used the word “crazy” in describing with my boss?

I dutifully admired the sample newsletters they showed me. But, I said, the contents seemed technically daunting, involving as they did tank hatches and tonnage, pipes and pressure valves, and hose handling derricks.

They assured me that I could learn it all, and gaily implied I would soon love it as much as they did. But even through my flu-induced fog, I knew the subject would bore me to stupefaction.

My interviewers were loath to let me go. Had I been entertaining them with hilariously unguarded revelations? I brought matters to a close by rising to my feet, leaning a hand on the table as I thanked them, and dragging my coat from the back of my chair with as much dignity as I could muster.

I never minded that I didn’t hear from the company again. But I’ve always wondered what on earth I said in that interview.
_____________

I’m planning to run a series on working. If you’ve got a weird interview story, share it in a comment. Or, hit me up if you’d like to guest post about interviewing or working.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Writers: Afraid of Your Idols? Guest Post by E. Victoria Flynn

E. Victoria Flynn

E. Victoria Flynn

Victoria Flynn’s particular slant on writers, writing, and life has riveted me since I first read her blog, V’s Place: An artists’ cafe. Her open and questioning approach never fails to engage me.

I commented on one of her posts, No Man’s Land, and I was thrilled when she asked me (or allowed me?) to guest post on her site. And I knew from the first that I wanted her to guest on my blog.

And here she is. Enjoy her dose of courage.
– Lynette

E. Victoria Flynn[/caption]Thanks to the Internet I’ve met a lot of authors over the past few years. It’s done wonders for my complexion. There’s nothing like getting over a case of star struck heebie-jeebies to give a person a healthy glow—especially writers, who tend to be socked away all on their lonesome for huge stretches of time. A little book-scented air will clear your ailments right up.

How intimidating it can be to approach a writer you admire and attempt to strike up a conversation. Once you take a moment to realize we’re all just people mingled together on this same blue and green planet breathing the same air and sharing the same water it gets easier.

I remember several years ago when I attended a Natalie Goldberg workshop in her beloved Taos, New Mexico. I grabbed on to the idea of the workshop as a way to identify my dreams and take hold of what was really mine, but after a night on my own and an introduction to Natalie, I lost my nerve. Oh I could talk a good talk. I was like the camp cheerleader, cajoling my cohorts over bagels and tea.

“Of course you can write,” I said over and over again while spending all my off time hacking myself to death on the page.

I was terrified to approach Natalie. Her mythical ethos was huge compared to her relative size and calm manner. During one exercise she instructed us to sit silently with our eyes closed, listening to our breath while she asked a question of the class. Random answers were tossed out, but they were never the right one. I had it nailed, but instead of speaking, I chanted the words to myself, praying someone would gather them up and run so I wouldn’t have to. The minute or two or five stretched on until finally I spoke aloud. Natalie was pleased. Someone picked up the thread and continued the talk. Natalie looked at me and mouthed a few words. I wished she’d look away.

A few days later in a discussion about The Great Gatsby, the topic of Tom and Daisy’s cold fried chicken came up. Natalie said she’d always remembered the chicken, which brought to my mind a scene from her book Banana Rose where the main character Nell buys a whole chicken and then proceeds to dump it in a trash can. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book, but that scene still sticks with me. It’s something I would do, given the right heartbreak.

At lunch that day I tracked Natalie down. I said, “I just wanted to let you know that I always remember the chicken in Banana Rose.”

It sounds a little hokey now, but if it’s true, we have every right to say it. Natalie gave me a huge smile and reached out for a hug. She thanked me then and said, “Everyone always talks about Bones. I’m so glad you remembered Banana Rose.”

Time has moved on and I’ve realized that we have so few chances to take those personal dares. Some of us think of ourselves as writers not talkers, prone to seek out the dark corner in the back of the cafe rather than sit up front and raise a hand. So what if we say something off kilter? We have just as much chance of getting a hug as anything else. And anyway, it gives us something to think about, doesn’t it? There’s that time when each of us may get our moment, standing in the warm book-scented air, holding up a freshly published baby for all the world to read.

Got any writing idols who frightened you? Come on. Don’t be afraid to confess in a comment.
_____________

E. Victoria Flynn is a mother writer in southern Wisconsin. As the curator of V’s Place: An artists’ cafe, she has a penchant for old typewriters and hot coffee. Victoria is currently writing her first supernatural novel.

She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!