Saturday, December 14, 2019

Writing Memoir!






This semester, I did something I never do anymore: I took a creative writing class! It was on memoir-writing with Amy Silverman, whose credentials are, like, massive. Somehow or other, in my MFA years, I managed to take only one creative nonfiction class, a travel-writing class (that I really loved). However, as it should happen, my first nonfiction book was accepted for publication, DURING Amy’s class. I’m so honored, but also so struck by the demands of nonfiction-writing.

We finished this week, and I now have five million papers waiting to be graded, but I’m compelled to gather my thoughts. Here they are:

  • I taught five classes while taking this one, AND I LOOKED FORWARD TO THIS CLASS THE MOST. We wrote something every week, and it was my happy-time, my break, the thing I loved the best.
  • I have two different voices: a fiction voice and a nonfiction voice! They’re different!
  • Amy gave us weekly word counts – 750 usually, but also 1500 near the end. I found myself really liking the limits placed on me. I mean, I’m longwinded sometimes. This put me in my place!
  • I will write more nonfiction, BUT I think I found that I missed the veil of fiction, the mask I can wear to cover my own ugly? My own crazy? My own obsessions? I took the mask off for my cancer memoir—I REALLY did—but it was, uniquely maybe, a time during which I had no choice; I, um, thought I’d be dead soon. Wild.
  • I started off the class intending to write a book on my experiences working in international relations in the early nineties. But guess what happened. I found out that I don’t really want to write it. I’m not all that interested in it! I guess that’s why I left!
  • I discovered that I’ve said everything I want to say about South Africa in fiction.
  • I wrote a lot. I like to try to only write what I hope to publish. I don’t really write just for myself too much. I think, though, I wrote two pieces out of the stack of pieces that might have a future. One was on Walmart and that detention center for kids, and the other was on a road trip. Some of the other stuff, I’m, like, No Way!
  • Guys, this was a great group of writers. I’m tempted to write down all of their stories—but they are their stories! I think that the creative writing classroom often allows for this atmosphere—this gathering of diverse minds with stories and experiences and anxieties and hopes—and I feel super privileged to have been a part of this. I do feel like I owe it to them to NOT disclose their stories, but I truly appreciated the way memoir fosters community. I think there’s a fallacy about memoir in place—people think memoir is self-indulgent myopia. You know, I’ve thought this too! But I think, more than anything, it’s a hunt for meaning, a desire for threading our lives into narratives, a goal-oriented act of hope. I need to think more about this. But I can really say to you that the mood in the memoir class is not egomaniacal; rather, it’s humble, vulnerable, thoughtful.
  • Also, about this class: quite a few of us were looking beyond this class and hoping to write books. Now that it’s over, I’m finding myself thinking about their stories. What happens next?
  • So, yeah, I’m not writing a book on politics. Nope.


Cancer, I'll Give You One Year: A Non-Informative Guide To Breast Cancer, A Writer's Memoir In Almost Real Time is not about eating kale. It's coming in the spring from Wipf and Stock Publishers.