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Wednesday, 1 November 2017

How Do You Write a Memoir?

the-green-reaper, elizabeth-fournier, book
Image: Elizabeth Fournier
When I wrote my memoir, The Green Reaper: Memoirs of an Eco-Mortician, I did the classic show up and throw up. I sat on a gold-coloured balance ball wearing one of many pairs of cosy, black stretch pants with a Super Big Gulp perched next to me, and out spilt all my thoughts as I just typed and typed on my laptop. The finger strokes on the keyboard became rhythmic. Words appeared on the monitor and I was tickled at how fast the page filled, and how often I refilled my soda.

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? Great! Before you start, reread the above paragraph. Don’t you feel like you sort of know me and can picture me rolling around on that annoying ball in the corner of my semi-clean home, talking out loud to myself while telling my story?

People are reading about YOU. So dig deep. Tell a story. Explain the details. Give the audience a picture. Yeah, it was Friday and you were heading to work. Were you in the car, bus, or on foot? What did you smell, see, or hear? Were you eating, drinking, or reading anything? Talk to us. Share your life. You, my friend, are interesting.

What personal story would you share? Or what would keep you from writing it?

Write the narrative you feel passionate to write and keep in perspective that you are the protagonist in your own memoir, the tour guide. It is you driving the train out of dysfunction junction and on to greener pastures. This provided a lot of clarity for me which in turn motivated my internal drive to write my book. I worked through the prickly task of writing about one disappointing situation after the next because readers want to see our heroine struggle so we can hold her hand as climbs her way through real life.

Organise your writing into small chunks. Undertake this newfound passion in your life one manageable serving at a time. Allow yourself to jot notes and craft bits that aren’t necessarily in chronological sequence. Don’t worry; the finished result will rock if you stay true to yourself.

I just started at the beginning and ploughed through the whole thing. I wrote between 5-10 pages per day on average for my book. I was done before I knew it, but I certainly didn’t deliver a strong original draft of the manuscript. I then had to regroup, break up the manuscript into larger chapters, add more dialogue and most of all, have fun. I opened my heart and it all poured out with ease, except for days when the ease was nowhere to be found.

Writer’s block is real. Dialogue doesn’t always fall freely from the sky, after all. I would roll back and forth on that gold ball until I had to get up and really move my body to shake it off. A lot of my best solutions to tricky plot dilemmas came to me on the treadmill. I would completely zone out and let my subconscious really get to work. Finally, I read prior chapters aloud, laugh at my wackiness, and change sentences to make me laugh even louder. I kept on keepin’ on.

So what advice can I give a budding memoirist? Be open to the experience. A misspelt word might turn into a different word which can give fresh perspective and new direction. A badly worded sentence can trigger a new thought or two. Add and subtract sentences to make your story sparkle. Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing - work. I have heard it said that a manuscript is never truly finished. Editing will be your constant companion, so settle in and be welcoming.

When editing, I used a common time management trick - I ignored everything that was not vital in order to get it done. This meant eschewing my urge to compulsively check e-mail, informing friends that I’m “on deadline,” and creaking out of bed at random hours to jot things down. The editing portion of my manuscript took place at my funeral home. My parlour is located on acreage in the country in a remodelled goat barn. It is peaceful, and my mind feels untroubled there. I can stare out the window and see deer, green grass and lots of beautiful trees and plants. It’s heavenly, and I am currently smiling at those lovely trees dancing in the sunlight as I write this very post.

Elizabeth Fournier serves on the Advisory Board for the Green Burial Council, the environmental certification organisation setting the standard for green burial in North America. She is also an actress in commercials, film work, voice overs, and has appeared in three episodes of the NBC series, Grimm. She was sought-after to sell caskets to the prop department for death-related scenes, and was consulted with as a mortuary advisor. Her memoir, The Green Reaper: Memoirs of an Eco-Mortician, is available to buy now. 

Have you ever considered writing a memoir? Let me know in the comments below!

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