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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Author Interview: Sue William Silverman on Memoir Writing


Sue William Silverman's newest book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir, reads like a memoir about writing memoir – and that's exactly what the accomplished and respected nonfiction writer had in mind when she decided to do a book about writing craft. Silverman’s first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP award in creative nonfiction, and her second, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction was made into a Lifetime Television original movie. She teaches in the low-residency MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, speaks frequently at writer's conferences – where I've had the pleasure of being in the audience, furiously scribbling notes and nodding my head -- and has appeared as a guest expert on The View, CNN and many other venues.

I'm pleased that Sue agreed to answer my questions. [Note – we are also giving away a copy of the book and Sue is also stopping by this blog several times today to answer any questions readers ask in the comments – see below.]

LR: Your book is filled with writing exercises. What role do these kind of stretching opportunities and experimentation play in your own work?

SWS: Exercises are beneficial because they focus on one specific craft issue at a time. They’re less daunting than thinking about a whole book, or even an entire essay. I can think, “okay, right now, this is all I have to tackle: this one exercise.” It’s a kind of a playful (not intimidating) way to proceed with a piece of writing. Then, what I learn in this short exercise, I can bring to bear on the larger work. In many ways, exercises are prompts to get us going.

LR: There are so many forms of nonfiction, but I've seen writers force themselves and struggle to emulate the more literary memoirs. Advice?

SWS: There are different ways to explore a life narrative. Sure, you can write about your life in journal form, or as a diary—a document meant for your eyes only. Or, say, you can write a family history, something for your children or grandkids. In these instances, of course, simply tell the story straight: this is what happened to me...let me tell you my story. Period. With these kinds of documents, metaphor and other literary devices aren’t necessary. There’s no pressure to force the manuscript into a literary form.

If, however, you want to write literary nonfiction, then it is incumbent upon the author to structure the material, deepen it with metaphor and reflection. You are shaping life into art.

But rather than feel pressured to do so, most writers, I hope, see this as a wonderful opportunity to study the craft of writing, to be able to engage in this journey of self discovery, to understand what the events in your life mean.

And I don’t mean to go off-message, but this leads me to think: why, really, do I write memoir? I write to solve “mysteries” about my life. It’s strange to think, but I don’t fully understand my life until I write it.

Which is a good thing! If we knew all the answers ahead of time, there’d be no reason to write our narratives. We write to find out what our stories mean—rather than merely state what we already know.

In short, if you are writing literary memoir, then my advice would be to stay with the material, keep peeling away those layers, like an onion, until you do discover the deeper layers of self and experience. This is a gift a writer gives herself! So, yes, my advice is to see this writing process as a gift—rather than pressure.

LR: Your book includes many published examples of exemplary nonfiction. How much of a writer's developing craft depends on reading and examination of masterful work?

SWS: Reading well-crafted literature is essential. Absolutely. I can't imagine writing without reading. One of the appendices in Fearless Confessions, by the way, has a long creative nonfiction reading list, divided into categories, by subject matter. There is a fairly extensive list of my nonfiction reading recommendations here.

LR: You've described the book as a "memoir about writing memoir". How does this work technically in the book? Why this tone and structure?

SWS: Yes, rather than write what I would consider an academic textbook (which would have put me to sleep during the writing of it—and you to sleep during the reading of it!), I invite the reader along on my own writing journey.

I teach by example: this is what I struggled with as a writer; this is what I ultimately learned; let me share it with you.

So while I address important craft issues such as theme, plot, character development, voice, metaphor, etc., the voice itself of Fearless Confessions is intimate and friendly, not dry or academic. I wanted the book to be informal and inviting. In this way, then, it could be called a memoir about what I learned through the writing and publishing of two memoirs.

LR: Regarding nonfiction I often tell writers, "readers don't care about you, they care what your story says about them," and so I was excited to see that this seems to be at the center of your discussion about how nonfiction makes a contribution to the reader, and to the world. Can you talk a bit about that and what the writer must understand about this seemingly paradoxical truth?

SWS: Yes, that's exactly right! If, say, in my first book, I just whined and complained and wanted the reader, basically, to feel sorry for me because my father sexually molested me, well, really, the reader wouldn't feel sorry for me! Sure, my therapist and best friend would care, but a general reader would not care.

If, however, through metaphor, reflection, use of sensory imagery, plot, and the development of a literary voice, you artfully bring the reader inside the experience, then they care about you; you have discovered a way for them to feel your experience in a tangible and visceral way.

When I write about recovering from incest or sexual addiction, I’m also writing about loss, alienation, identity. Aren’t these universal themes to which most anyone can relate? So by casting light on my story, I’m hopefully helping others better understand their own.

In short, the more you craft your real-life story into art, the more the reader engages in it, identifies with it. It is paradoxical, as you say, but that’s how art works!

LR: Many would-be memoirists (or personal essayists) are nearly crippled by the idea of not having "permission" or "the right" to tell stories which include others – loved ones, former friends, relatives, acquaintances. I've been puzzled at times too. Your advice?

SWS: The memoirist James McBride says, “Fear is a killer of good literature.” So, yes, I agree with you that many memoirists, or would-be writers, are afraid of committing their stories to paper. And while I understand this fear—especially since it took me many years to overcome it myself—I would still urge beginning memoirists to write anyway—regardless of the fear.

One way to overcome it, at least initially, is to pretend to write just for yourself, ignoring (as much as possible) the fact that others might one day read your story. For me, while writing, I always pretend no one else will ever see my work. And, in any event, it’s my choice whether I’ll ultimately share it with anyone or not.

I tell myself I’m writing this book, first and foremost, because I must. Which is true. The act of writing, itself, is of primary importance. This is where the spirituality of artistic endeavor resides. Focus on the words, themselves, during the creation process. Worry about the outside world later.

In order to be creative and fully engage in the process, writers must give themselves permission to set aside the fear about what the outside world might think. Remember, we own our own stories! Our stories belong to us. As writers, they are ours to write.

LR: You talk about the writer having two voices, the Innocent Voice (from the past, at the time of the remembered events) and the Voice of Experience (present day, through lens of reflection). Can you talk about being aware of which is which, how to make transitions between the two, and when each may be appropriate?

SWS: Yes, in Fearless Confessions I developed the idea of how every memoir needs two voices in order to fully explore your experience, fully capture your persona on the page.

One aspect of yourself is conveyed in what I call the Voice of Innocence. Here, using this voice, you relate the facts of the story— the surface events in the past that actually happened. It’s the voice that portrays the raw, not-yet-understood emotions associated with the story’s past action: How you felt, what you did at the time the events actually occurred.

For the Voice of Experience, on the other hand, imagine the writer “you,” now, sitting at your desk writing, trying to make sense of these events that happened to you years earlier. It’s a more mature voice that deepens the Voice of Innocence with reflection and metaphor. It’s a more complex viewpoint that interprets the surface subject.

Using these two voices you are showing, in effect: This is what happened to me in the past; this is how I now, with more wisdom, feel about it looking back.

In terms of when to use any given voice, a lot of that is trial and error, in that there are no hard-and-fast rules as to when to use one, when the other. Each memoir or essay we write will present its own challenges.

Generally speaking, however, these voices are very fluid. One page, one paragraph, even one sentence might incorporate both.

Within one brief section of Love Sick, for example, I use these two voices when describing a maroon scarf that once belonged to my married lover, but which he gave to me: “I press the scarf against my nose and mouth. I take a deep breath. The scent is of him—leaves smoldering in autumn dusk—and I believe it is a scent I have always craved, one I will always want. I don’t understand why the scent of the scarf seems more knowable, more tangible, than the rest of him.”

Here, I begin with the Voice of Innocence, providing factual and sensory details about the maroon scarf, romanticizing its scent of smoldering dusk. The raw (albeit unexplored) emotion I feel toward this man—who wraps such a magical scarf around my neck—must prove this is love. Doesn’t it?

“No,” the Voice of Experience implies, in that last sentence. Instead, the scarf embodies alienation and loneliness, as well as a need for comfort. I love the scarf because, as an addict, I don’t know how to love the man—and, more importantly, myself. This sober, authorial voice of experience guides the reader through the confusion of the addiction, depicting, over the course of the memoir, why I have self-destructive affairs with dangerous men.

In short, the Voice of Innocence conveys what happened: I press the scarf to my face, inhaling autumn dusk. The Voice of Experience examines what the author, sitting at her desk writing, understands about events now: The scarf is more knowable than the man. Ultimately, a writer’s exploration is more interesting than just the facts by themselves.

LR: Your new book includes many examples of how you solved many craft and technical challenges while shaping your memoirs. As you were writing this book and thinking back to those examples, did you learn anything new about your own writing process and craft?

SWS: Yes! That’s the thing about writing. It’s much easier for me to know what I think about something if I write about it. Certainly, too, I think it’s made me a better teacher. I teach at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, a low-residency MFA program, which is a great community of writers, by the way.

LR: Can you suggest a short writing exercise for any readers of this blog who may be stuck or struggling at the moment?

SWS: Well, you asked about that paralyzing fear would-be memoirists sometimes experience, which can actually prevent them from writing altogether. So here is a writing exercise from Fearless Confessions that might help.

“Who is the person whose potential reaction most scares you? Write him/her a letter, whether you send it or not. Tell this person all the reasons why you must write your story, why your story is important, why your voice must be heard and not forgotten…why you must write anyway.”

LR: That's a great one. Thanks for all your insights.

To be entered in the random drawing for a copy of Fearless Confessions, please leave a comment (and be sure there is a way for us to contact you) by midnight, September 1. In addition, Sue has agreed to drop by this blog several times today to answer questions – so post yours in the comment section too and check back at the end of the day for Sue's answers.

[Update: The "answers from Sue" part is now concluded, but anyone else can still leave a comment for a chance to win the book. If you don't win it - go buy it. I can't think of a better way to spend the money if you are serious about writing any kind of personal nonfiction.]

42 comments:

Jodi said...

You said to write a letter to the person whose reaction most scares us. What if that person is a child? Children spend the first 18 years of their life just trying to fit in and here you are telling the family secrets making them "The girl whose mother fill-in-the-blank". You waited until your parents were dead to publish your memoirs. Should we wait until our children are grown?

B.A. Goodjohn said...

This article comes at a great time for me since I'm getting ready to shift focus from fiction to memoir. I've written two novels so far--both (very) loosely based on events from my past. I'm interested in how the experience of writing memoir will differ from that of writing fiction. I know I need to immerse before I begin, so am keen to read the bibliobgraphy mentioned in the interview.

Sue Silverman said...

Jodi, that's a tough question. The dynamic around an adult who scares us is very different from that of a child.

And, to be honest, I had an adult in mind when I suggested that particular exercise here--an exercise that would definitely have helped me if I'd had it back when I first thought about writing a memoir.

Anyway, here's another exercise (also from "Fearless Confessions") for those whose fears surround, perhaps, children:

"Make a list of the reasons why you're scared to write secrets. Then, make a second list enumerating why you think it would be a good decision to tell these secrets anyway. Which list, in balance, makes the stronger argument?"

You know, look at the list good and hard. Maybe you DO decide to wait to tell family secrets until after the child is grown. Or, maybe you decide the child would, ultimately, be stronger knowing the family secrets now, not growing up with secrets.

This is a totally individual decision and choice. What works best for you? The list might help you decide.

Again, of course, there's no one right way or wrong way here. There is only the way that works best for you, in your situation.

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, B. A. Goodjohn,
Thanks for the post, and I'm interested to learn that you plan to switch from fiction to memoir. I'd love to hear how the experience differs (or is similar?)for you, after you get into it. (You can find my contact info. on my website, if you'd like to let me know!)

Just off the top of my head, one thing that you might think about is how, with memoir, it's not just writing the "surface" story of what happened; it's also reflecting back on the events of which you write--seeing the past in a new light. So it's an exploration as much as a recollection. This is one area that took me a while to figure out! Good luck with the memoir!

Ann Anderson Evans said...

I am rewriting my book at the moment, trying to break through the fear that, after all the other traumas we've been through, my children will view the truth of my last few years as traumatic. There is one train of thought which says that the truth will set you free, and another which says that the truth can harm you. Both are true. I'm still not sure I want to jeopardize my relationship with them.

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, Ann, mainly, for now, I think it's important that you are writing or rewriting the book, even if just for yourself.

I mean, we learn so much about ourselves and our experiences through writing, so that regardless of what we end up doing with the manuscript, the writing itself is invaluable.

For me, I always take these things in two stages: first, I just want to get it all down on paper. Then, second, I consider the "outside world."

For "Fearless Confessions" I interviewed and quoted from many memoirists, all of whom struggle with this issue, in various degrees. So it is something that's part of the genre, and it's interesting about how differently writers handle this.

In any event, even if you don't feel comfortable publishing it now, still, if you write it, then it'll be ready in the future, if you feel differently about publishing at a later stage.

Michelle O'Neil said...

Wow. Great interview! I love the suggested exercise and also the exchange between Jodi and Sue Silverman in the comments. Lots of food for thought.

Please enter me in the contest!

Sue Silverman said...

Thanks so much, Michelle, I'm really pleased you enjoyed the interview! Sue

deonne kahler said...

Thanks, Lisa and Sue, for sharing your conversation with us!

I'm starting a memoir and don't yet have a good handle on how much reflection - that voice of experience - to plug in. I tend to want to let the reader do much of the work, to trust the reader's intelligence and not overexplain, but I've been told I'm being too minimal in that regard. Is there a way to tell when you have "enough" reflection in a memoir?

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, Deonne, really good question!

First, let me say, reflection really isn't "explaining." Nor is it "commentary." When a memoirist writes, she is, basically, on a journey to understand what events in the past meant to her--what they mean to her NOW. "How do I see the past in a new light?"

As she does so, she's also uncovering metaphors for her life (metaphor is part of the Voice of Experience).

The Voice of Experience is basically the writer "thinking on the page" as she figures things out, and she's "inviting" the reader to come along with her on the journey, this journey of exploration.

So maybe think of it more as an archaeology dig: what will I discover next? And the reader, in a sense, participates with you on this dig, so becomes very involved in what you discover, what you find.

In that way, the reader herself is part of the dig, so, yes, the reader must bring her own intelligence to bear, is part of the process.

In short, think less about explaining, and more about exploring and discovery. And readers will love to accompany you on this trip!

Is this clearer? If not, please let me know and I'd be happy to try again!

Gary said...

I'm published but untutored, and I've hit upon the idea that what SWS classifies as the "Voice of Experience" in my writing is putting words on paper (screen) to discover what I know about a place, thing, person, or experience. That's too much navel-gazing, in some sense, but I often don't know what I want to write until I write it. If there's any value in it, it's publishable. If not, it was good exercise.

My primary problem at this stage is that I feel the person inside of me who writes this stuff is too narrowly focused, too limited in experience to produce more worthy of publication.

Gary www.garypresley.com

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, Gary, interesting points! Actually, what I'm suggesting, is kind of the opposite of navel gazing! When we discover our metaphors for any given experience, then we're finding ways to make our stories universal! That, in many ways, is the same as for poetry or fiction. The universal is found in the particular metaphor--in the "emotion" or "idea" behind what the metaphor represents--something to which most anyone could relate.

I really think if you do try to write in this more metaphoric way, then your work won't be narrowly focused! What do you think?

Amy Yelin said...

Great interview!
I completed the MFA program at Lesley and have a partial draft of a memoir which I've been ignoring a bit for the past few years. I still end up writing about the same themes of the memoir, which has to do with discovering my father's "secret" past (he never talked about it) and how that played out in my life and our relationship. As for metaphor, his name is Gershon, which means a stranger there...it works in terms of our relationship, and in terms of his life, which has been one of exile and starting over.
Anyway, to get to the point here, I am intimidated not so much about sharing secrets, but with structure. Structuring the book seems so challenging! Any tips?

Thanks!
Amy

Susan Ito said...

Hi Sue, it's great to see you here! I had the great pleasure of meeting you at AWP, and I am realllly looking forward to your book. I've been working on a memoir for a loooong time (more than 15 yrs) off and on, stop and start, fictionalized it for a while, then back. The longer I live, the more the story stretches out. I guess I'd like to know how you decide upon the limits of the story, the frame, and when it's "done."

Sue Silverman said...

HI, Amy, Your memoir sounds fascinating. And, yes, talk about metaphors: your father's name is amazing. That's almost eerie how apt that is.

In terms of structure, let me throw out a few ideas.

First, of course, determining where to begin a plot--or the strucure--can certainly help in terms of the whole. Usually, in my experience with writing and teaching memoir, it's "easier" to not try to tell the story chronologically.

Instead, ask yourself: what is the moment that best jumpstarts the action? Why does the story begin *now*? What just happened that's the point of impact, that will cause all else to follow?

For example, in my memoir "Love Sick," I begin as I'm entering rehab for 28 days for a sexual addiction. That's the moment that jumpstarts the rest of the story. Then, like following a map, I write each chapter as a day in rehab, with flashbacks about the past, which caused me to go into rehab in the first place.

In other words, if I had begun in the past--say, years before I entered rehab--that would have been a difficult book to structure, that kind of chronology. I'd have had too many years to slog through.

But, by beginning as I'm entering rehab, then I can embed the past in the present story, so the structure is much tighter and more congruent and cohesive.

In short, try to discover the moment, perhaps, when you first realize something is "wrong" in your family, or with your father. Or, when did you realize that you had to discover the truth? Is there a moment when you discovered one of his secrets? That might be a good place to start. And then you, too, can insert sections of your childhood as flashbacks in the present action.

Did you study CNF at Lesley? I teach at the low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Anyway, good luck with the memoir. And I hope this might help a bit.

Mary Rose Webster said...

Lisa, I admire the skill with which you have parlayed your third semester thesis idea into blog content that we all can enjoy and learn from. Excellent questions. And excellent answers, Sue. I like how you frame the two voices in memoir as one of "Innocence" and one of "Experience." It is the reflecting voice I struggle with. It is hard for me to write myself into a place where I don't have all the answers. Perhaps some of the exercises in your book can help me with that.

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, Susan, great to "see" you here! Yes, that was a lovely AWP dinner that group of us had together.

Oh, I know: since one's life goes on and on, when do you actually end a memoir? Good question.

My sense is that--since a memoir isn't a whole life--but a slice of a life--that it can help to think of a memoir thematically when it comes to beginnings AND endings. And then try to follow that thematic thread through to a "natural" conclusion.

Back to my example of "Love Sick" for a moment: since I began just as I was entering rehab, then I ended the book just after I left rehab.

Now, in real life, when I wrote "Love Sick," I was actually already divorced from the husband I'm with in the book. But, I ended the book while we were still together. Thematically, that ending fit. To have to stretch out the story and go through the blow-by-blow divorce would have bogged down the story I most wanted to tell: recovering from sex addiction.

So if you can find that narrowly defined thematic thread, then you can try to wrap it up there. In other words, no need for everything to be up to date! For one thing, by not trying to fit too much in any one book, then you'll have material for a second memoir!

I hope this helps. Let me know, if not.

Leslie Brunetsky said...

Hi Sue, Thanks to you and Lisa for the informative interview. I've just switched from memoir to fiction and my protagonist is the story teller. She begins at age 5 and continues through young adulthood.
I'm trying to write her story in the language and thoughts a young child would have, also mindful of the limited use of written language.
As she grows, her language and voice change, evolving into the experienced adult.
Any tips on how to do this smoothly?

Sue Silverman said...

HI, Mary Rose: thank you! I can relate: most of us struggle more with the Voice of Experience than with the Voice of Innocence. It took me 5 years to "hear" the Voice of Experience in "Love Sick."

That said, and just to reassure you, you might try NOT worrying about not having all the answers. In many ways, that's the point or the use of the voice of experience. It is IN this voice, or THROUGH this voice, that we discover our answers.

If we had all the answers ahead of time, then there's almost no reason to write a memoir. For me at least I write to discover what I don't know! Not just state what I do know.

The voice of experience is the "sound" of us thinking on the page, trying to make sense of what came before.

Also, ambiguity is definitely part of a memoir. You don't have to know all the answers. Sometimes the questions we ask ourselves are more interesting, anyway. I hope this helps.

Sue Silverman said...

HI, Leslie, thank you!

Wow, that's challenging, to include several voice(s) like that. I'm impressed. Most writers probably would have chosen a more conventional adult voice, then structured the novel as one looking back--you know, the older narrator looking back and reflecting on the past.

But to use a voice, or voices, to convey chronology is more difficult, yet more interesting. First, you might read James Joyce's "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man." He begins in a child voice--something about a "moo cow" or something...and then grows into a more mature voice.

One bit of advice that immediately comes to mind, in terms of having a seamless quality, might be too not have the child voice go on for too long...for the more adolescent or even adult voice begin sooner rather than later.

Also, you might capture certain speech rhythms (even in narrative, not just dialogue--you know, in terms of sentence strucutre, etc.) that would remain the same. Or retain the use of certain words. Or even weave certain images throughout the book. You know, anything that could act as a through thread like that would help.

Amy said...

Hi Sue,

Thanks for the advice.I originally tried to do it by flashing back and forth between events in his life, with chapters about my own life, to show how his history affected me. It didn't work, really. Plus I don't think I want that to be overly emphasized anymore...the whole transmission of trauma and secrecy on the next gen. I want to find a way to tell his story, and tell the story of our evolving relationship.
Just thinking out loud now, but I do know what you mean about finding that entry point, and I think I know what it is - and have written about it already. Now I must see if I can write the book with that as a starting point.
Thank you - and yes, I studied CNF at Lesley, with Alex Johnson and Rachel Manley.
I look forward to reading your book (even if I dont' win it...I'll still read it!) ; )
Amy

Gary said...

I think I understand the concept of evolving from navel gazing to metaphor. When I read and discuss creative nonfiction, I think of subjective truths as metaphor, in some sense. We have only the window of our own reality to describe the world outside.

One other element of book-length writing upon which I have only a slippery grip is "narrative arc." If for example, if I were to write about growing up as a military brat during the Cold War, the metaphor might be revolve around isolation, always being the proverbial stranger in a strange land, being shaped as an outsider, always the observer, but I cannot wrap my mind around "narrative arc" in that story.

Thanks for providing such an interesting series of comments.

Gary

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, Amy, yes, that flipping back and forth in chapters can be tough--mainly because you kind of get one thread moving forward, only to have to interrupt it and switch to another thread.

But that's great that you know the point of impact! Yes, you might try that and see where that leads. In my own work, I've found that once I start in the "right" place, the rest of the structure can fall into place. Good luck with this! It sounds like a terrific memoir!

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, Gary, to some extent, I see narrative arc as how you (the narrator) gets from "here" to "there." In other words, at the end of any given memoir, the narrator is different from who he/she is at the beginning. So it's following that arc, or movement.

In your own case, yes, I agree, isolation is a strong metaphor! So, if you begin at a point where your persona is isolated, then, how does your persona move away from that so that, at the end, you either maybe recognize the isolation and/or maybe do something to break out of it? The arc, I think, is kind of that growing awareness--if that makes sense.

deonne kahler said...

Thanks, Sue, that does make more sense. Since I do have this tendency to want to "under-reflect," in the first draft I plan to overwrite in that area, because I can always cut back later.

Sue Silverman said...

HI, Deonne, Yes, that's a good plan! I always overwrite (ha!) in the first draft, because I agree: it's much easier to take out than put in. So I am a big believer of overwriting!! Good luck with that.

Lorri said...

Hi Sue, Your book sounds great and I can't wait to read it. Your ideas about talking from innocence and experience call to mind Vivian Gornick's book, The Situation and the Story. I've re-read sections of her book several times, and it has helped me in my own writing, particularly in thinking about narrative distance and the persona I choose to tell my stories. These aspects seem key to me and I think your book would help me with them as well.

Sue Silverman said...

HI, Lorri, thanks so much! Yes, I enjoyed reading the Gornick book as well. The idea of persona, or voice--and which persona we choose to tell any given story--is crucial, key, in many ways, to the success of the memoir or essay.

For example, in each of my two memoirs, the voice sounds different, which is one reason why I needed the two books. For example, the voice or sound of the first book, about growing up in an incestuous family, is that of a lost, wounded little girl. The voice of "Love Sick," on the other hand, is tougher, edgier--the voice or sound of an addict. There was no way, then, that the subject matter of these two books could have been twined together into one. The sound would have been discordant.

Now, I'm working on a kind of essay collection, and, on some level, the challenge of each of them was to find the voice that reflected the subject matter at hand. And, to some extent, each voice is somewhat different in 23 separate essays.

That said, still, there IS an essence of me, my voice, my style, my sound in everything I write! So it's a tricky business. But, yes, how crucial to discover the voice that tells any given story!

Chryselle said...

What a great post, Lisa. As someone who has had a journal in some form or the other since I was 8, there's a lifetime of writing material (and secrets) in that stack of notebooks. My best writing has always been my most honest. At the same time, I'm reluctant (terrified!) that someone I love might read the pages and judge me based on what I was feeling at that moment. I still write anyway, but the fear is often enough to say to myself "Don't put this down on paper - you'll regret it."

How do I get past that? More importantly, do I need to?

Looking forward to reading the book.

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, Chryselle, that's great that you've been keeping a journal since you were eight. I'm impressed.

Well, given that you HAVE been keeping this journal, it seems that, even if you're scared to write your intimate thoughts/secretes down on paper, you're doing it anyway, right?!

So I'd pay attention to that. I mean, I think most writers worry about what they write, whether it's in a journal or meant for publication...and even whether it's memoir, fiction, or poetry. I think it's pretty normal to feel insecure.

But, if you feel compelled to write, I think what's most important is to write anyway, even if you're scared. And you seem to be doing that.

But DO you regret it? I guess that's an important question to ask yourself, too. And, if you do, maybe think about what that means, and whether you want to write anyway...or maybe discover a way to feel better about it.

I'm not sure if I'm adequately answering your question, so please let me know, okay? And wherever your writing leads you, whether to more journals or a memoir, I wish you all the best with your writing. Sue

Shaun Hunter said...

This generous discussion is right on the mark. I've spent the summer figuring out a structure for the first draft of my literary memoir; I'm poised to begin the second draft this fall. The trick for me was getting enough distance from the first draft to see what I had done. A completely different process from writing the draft. It involved reading Wallace Stegner's "Wolf Willow," journalling, bits of paper and a bulletin board. I'm still not exactly sure how a structure clicked into place, but I think it did. It's not really something you can force; it seems to happen in the background.

I appreciate the letter exercise you suggest. I've been thinking about how to handle that as I worked through the first draft. A letter, of course! Why didn't I think of that?

I look forward to reading your book.

Lisa Romeo said...

Thank you to everyone who sent in a question for Sue to answer.

I think everyone will agree that she was generous, thoughtful, insightful and yet practical in her answers, and I can't thank her enough for the time she took to address everyone's concerns.

Sue Silverman said...

HI, Shaun, I'm so pleased you enjoyed the discussion. And I'm delighted that you discovered the structure for your memoir! Congratulations.

And I have a similar process: After finishing the first draft of a manuscript, sometimes I just have to set it aside for awhile, let it "marinate," and then return to it in a few weeks or so with fresh eyes.

I'm really pleased you like the letter exercise! Thank you!

Sue Silverman said...

Thank you, Lisa! And thanks to all of you for asking such great questions and making such insightful comments. I really enjoyed my time here!!

Just so you know: I'm on Facebook (you can find me at "Sue William Silverman") and would be pleased to be friends! Also, my contact info. is on my website, at www.suewilliamsilverman.com.

I'm looking forward to seeing who won a copy of Fearless Confessions! And good luck to all of you with your writing.

2KoP said...

I'm sorry I missed the "live" version of this dynamic discussion, but I'm happy to have had the opportunity to glean insights from everyone's questions and Sue's answers. And I'm happy I still have a chance to win her book!

2kopeople at gmail dot com

Jean said...

I am so inspired and encouraged by your approach. I wish we had the book right now! My friend and I sit procrastinating as we have met to write our memoirs.

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, 2KoP and Jean!
Thanks for stopping by to post. I'm delighted you had a chance to read the blog. And I am very appreciative of your support! Sue

kristen said...

Would love to have this book to help me define the memoir inside....

kristen l fischer @ gmail.com

Sam Beal said...

I just brought the book, but I know people who would also appreciate it.

Andrea said...

Sounds like a great book! I'd love to read it (and her other two as well). My address is andreaelani (at) yahoo

Lisa Romeo said...

And the winner is....Michelle.

Congrats, Michelle. The book will be on its way to you shortly.

Thanks, everyone, for commenting.

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