As part of the WOW blog tour for Seeker by Rita Pomade, Rita has agreed to share her advice with us on how to write a memoir.
Advice on Writing a Memoir
Rainer Marie Rilke, known mainly as a poet, also wrote memoir. A young man who wanted to write memoir wrote Rilke for advice. The poet answered: First you experience something. Then you grieve the loss. Then you have to forget it. Then you remember it. Then you write. I thought Rilke’s response was a good first step as so much of a good story comes from the unconscious. It’s often dormant until we start putting words to paper. Technique is just the vessel into which the story is poured, and shouldn’t take precedence over the message. Memory needs time to mellow, to take the bitter edge away. My memoir, Seeker: A Sea Odyssey, would have been less layered and nuanced had I written it just after the journey. Letting time pass made it a better story.
But where to begin once time has played its role? I found folders were a good first step. I stored photos, letters, and then bits of memory that would spontaneously pop into my head. When you focus on past events related to your memoir, forgotten memories start surface. If I wasn’t sure about a detail and asked for confirmation, I stored that information in my folders as well. My next memoir takes place in early childhood. Unfortunately, I have no one to glean stories from or to verify if things I had overheard were accurate. If you’re lucky enough to have living witnesses to interview, make sure to add those valuable pipelines to your past. Your folders hold vital parts of your story that will be woven into the fabric of the whole as you write. The fragments that had floated into your mind earlier and were stored will expand in the process of writing. Before I started my memoir, I selected photographs from my folder and taped them to the wall in front of my desk. I studied them each time I sat down to write. They drew me right into my story.
A memoir isn’t linear. Writing a sequence of events has no heart. And memoir writing is all about writing from the heart. Anais Nin said write what grabs you at the moment. You’ll figure out where it goes later. As you write, related material enters that expands your vision. Don’t stifle it. See where it goes. If it doesn’t work, you can edit it out later.
I found visualization helped me enter a scene. I took time to meditate on the section I was writing about. By placing myself inside the part of the story I was working on, I brought back not only the location, but sounds, smells, sights—even tactile sensation. Once I was back there my emotions and bodily sensation came into play, and I could transfer them to the page. I was now in the story and not a spectator of my life telling a story. When you’re really inside your story, you take your reader there with you.
Thank you Rita – such valuable advice on what a memoir is how to write one.
Rita Pomade— teacher, poet, memoirist—lived six years aboard a small yacht that took her from Taiwan to the Suez to Mallorca, dropping anchor in 22 countries. She and her husband navigated through raging monsoons, encountered real-life pirates, and experienced cultures that profoundly changed them. Seeker: A Sea Odyssey, published by Guernica Editions under the Miroland label tells her story.
Rita Pomade, a native New Yorker, first settled in Mexico before immigrating to Quebec. During her time in Mexico, she taught English, wrote articles and book reviews for Mexconnect, an ezine devoted to Mexican culture, and had a Dear Rita monthly column on handwriting analysis in the Chapala Review. In Montreal she taught English as a Second Language at Concordia University and McGill University until her retirement. She is a two-time Moondance International Film Festival award winner, once for a film script and again for a short story deemed film worthy. Her work is represented in the Monologues Bank, a storehouse of monologues for actors in need of material for auditions, in several anthologies, and in literary reviews. Her travel biography, Seeker: A Sea Odyssey, was shortlisted for the 2019 Concordia University First Book Award.
Be sure to check out other stops along the WOW Blog Tour for Seeker