I decided it was time to pull out the material I've been sharing in workshops and in private sessions all in one place, to make it easier for those of you who want to write your own memoirs -- if only so the family will quit giving you a hard time already. So, there's a new kid on the block: InaTheMemoirCoach.com.
What's the site for? To help kick-start people who have a story to tell, but have been stumped about where to begin, how to organize, or get published. Both new writers and those new to the memoir form will find tools and tips. Or if you're one of those who really wish their parents and grandparents would tell their stories, this is a place to get some ideas of how to help them dig in, for you, but also for themselves. Writing the story of your life does not have to be hard, and it is a way to help others learn from your experience. And a way to clear cobwebs and feel better about life!
The new site features a bunch of Ina's Weird Prompts (TM) to help you recall your adventures vividly, and writing tips to help you get them down in a way others will savor. In coming months I'll be featuring the memoir writing experiences of others who have taken the leap. Give it a try -- you could become a featured talent with advice from your journey that will enlighten readers.
There is also a page dedicated to giving visitors a chance to ask me questions about writing memoirs, getting them published or printed for personal use, and performing your stories.
One last thought -- you don't have to be an old bat like me to write an effective memoir. Remember, everyone has a story to tell.
My friend Chrystine and I were jazzed Sunday. It was a clear sky, perfect temperature, and we were heading for a unique concert, in a private home facing the sea in Ventura. Armed with fresh strawberries and cherries to share, and a few peaches I'd bought for my home, which weren't quite ripe. For a change I wasn't even focused on how we are killing the Pacific as we hit PCH.
A few seconds later, BLAM! "What was that?" I asked.
"Tire," Chrystine answered.
I'd felt no drag on the car at all, but immediately pulled onto the (thank heaven it was there) shoulder. Naturally I'd forgotten my cell phone, and neither of us was up for doing the deed of changing what turned out to be an exceedingly flat tire indeed.
Chrystine to the rescue, not only with her cell, but her AAA account. I of course have roadside assistance but for some reason the card was missing from my wallet, like a few other vital cards I'd inadvertently not switched when making the recent move to a new wallet. Sigh. I did have the insurance info and could make a call to get the right number, but we were sure this would be faster.
"Where are you?" the AAA dispatcher apparently asked Chrystine. "On Rte.1, south of Malibu. Facing north, on the shoulder, with a blue Beamer...license plate # ...No, I don't know exactly how far from Malibu...OK."
Turning to me, Chrystine reported they would be about a half hour. OK, since I have a donut spare, we'll need to run back to my place and switch to her vehicle, a van. Not as neat as loping along in a convertible, but we'd make it to the event. We were cool. Chrystine grabbed the black and white beach ball that was still rolling when we got out of the car, and tossed it into the back of the car. She figured it would be one good thing that came out of this mess.
In just 15 minutes, a Malibu Tow truck zoomed toward us from the south. And swished on by. Apparently we weren't the only fools on the road.
Chrystine's phone rang about 15 minutes later. "No. I never said we were on Rt. 10. We're on Rte. 1, or PCH...Yes, south of Malibu, probably still in Santa Monica...No, we're north of Rte. 10...No, we're NOT on Rte. 10...We're on the shoulder of PCH, pointing north...on the northbound side of the road...It's a blue BMW convertible."
When another half hour passed, now one hour from our first call for help, the phone rang again. Apparently, the driver couldn't find us. The dispatcher had him on the phone and was set to relay more points of information from us to him.
This time I motioned for the phone. Chrystine is from Redlands, this is closer to my territory. Maybe I can give slightly better landmarks. "No, no, we're NOT on Rte. 10. No, I don't know exactly how far from Malibu we are...Blue Beamer...Yes...North of Wilshire, north of West Channel Road. OK? Great."
A concerned citizen on a bicycle pulls up as I am telling Chrystine, "15 minutes."
"Can I do anything to help?" he asks.
"Well, we're waiting for a tow truck but they can't seem to find us," Chrystine tells him.
"I've changed lots of tires in my time. Mind if I try?"
This made lots of sense of course, since he really wanted to help, and we were amazed and relieved when this generous soul started to ferret the equipment out of my trunk.
I was glad I'd thought ahead and strewn the side of the highway with the stuff in my trunk. Embarrassing, but it made getting at the spare much easier for our hero. As he was freeing up the jack, I noticed the Beamer people had included a spare wheel emblem in with the spare tire. They leave nothing unmarked. I like the logo, so I was a little sad that the rim wasn't set up to be decorated -- the plate had no slot to fit. But great news! This was not a donut, but a full size tire! We wouldn't have to run back to my place after all. We were still in good time for our event. Swell!
So our new found BF went at the task. He jacked up the car, then loosened each lug nut, laying all out for later replacement. He also knew that Beamers have a little plug in the flap under the doors, which leads to the place to insert the jack without wrecking the looks. I'd not known that, and felt grateful to be learning this important bit of info. I did remember seeing this in a Beamer sans the rubber trim, but had forgotten.
Anyway, once our bud got the tire ready to be pulled off, he tried to do just that. No such luck. It was jammed in place. "Get in the car," he directed me, "and take off the brake -- it seems to be locking the wheel."
I complied, not realizing he meant pump the brake, and released the hand brake. The car slid forward, causing the jack to tilt and almost crushing this poor man.
Once we all drew a breath, Chrystine suggested I drive the car forward a little and move it farther from the highway, more onto the dirt by the side of the road. This would help insure no one would edge over the white line and hit the car or one of us in passing, and give the jack a firmer foothold.
Heart in mouth, I again climbed in and managed to drive forward as planned. I am usually a fearless driver, but this episode was unnerving me.
Anyway, as our hero was again jacking up the car, our tow truck appeared.
"Why didn't you tell us where you are?" the driver asked in a heavily accented voice. "You said you were between Wilshire and the Channel."
Chrystine, ready to kill him, told him we had it covered and he could go. I wasn't so sure to tell the truth, but both our cyclist and she felt the driver was superfluous. He certainly was obnoxious, so I agreed.
Well, the tire was really locked on tight, and our guy couldn't dislodge it. He even called a friend who told him to kick it from both directions. But with cleats he was reluctant.
So we went back to the cell. This time I took it, called the general number for my insurance company and after only five full minutes and lots of "If you know you party's extension, press 2's," was able to connect with my own road service assistance.
This time we were in better shape. I now knew we were about 1.5 miles south of Malibu, courtesy of our biking friend, and south of Temescal Canyon, which I'd not even thought of. We were told "30 minutes." I wanted to believe. As did our biker, who, bless him, insisted on staying until the next tow truck arrived.
Thirty minutes later, we decided I should call for an ETA. "Where are you?" I was asked. "How far from Malibu?...OK, your driver will arrive within 30 minutes."
15 minutes later. Call from my roadside folks. "Can you give us better information? Our driver can't seem to find you. Where exactly are you on Rte. 1?"
"How many blue BMW convertibles are stuck on the shoulder of the road about 1.5 miles south of Malibu????????" Chrystine asked.
At this point, our cyclist gave up. We could hardly blame him. Someone leaned out of a passing car stuck in a jam and handed Chrystine a big bottle of water. A few others asked if we needed help, and a guy who had been taking a walk hung out with us while we were waiting.
They were very kind. When I can stand it, I'll write the next chapter in this tale. It involves a sum of money and barbecue sauce.
For now, I am as up the wall as any of you who lasted until this point.
In the first article in this series, we visited tools to help you get started, and move out of a block. There are many more coming in my next book, "How to Write Your Memoirs...The Toolbox Edition." In this article, we'll focus on ideas to kick your writing style up a notch.
TIPS ON GOOD WRITING
1. Start with a bang, but don’t worry if the gong doesn’t ring right away
The first line of any form you choose to write — novel, short story, memoir, poem — has an important role to play: it’s got to hook your reader. But don’t let this hang you up. Sometimes a great first line just comes to us, and in fact gets us going. But sometimes a good one comes later, after the writing has gone a short or even longer way. Suddenly just the right phrase or line will pop up, emerging from the story. You’ll know it when it surfaces.
Way to go: Holding onto the strap over her head, Hilda fell right out of the funicular car.
What, you ask? How could that happen? Well, perhaps the strap was on its last legs and ripped. Or….you think of another possibility.
Less Interesting: Hilda went on a trip.
2. Don’t repeat the same special word or descriptor in a sentence or paragraph.
Certainly words such as “the” may demand to be used more than once. That’s not boring unless they show up as every other word; they’re not eye-catchers. But if you have used a descriptive, colorful or unique term, for example you’ve described someone as “fascinating,” be sure you don’t use the word, in any of its versions, later in the same sentence or paragraph. You will soon disengage your reader.
Less Interesting: Old Weird Harold was the most fascinating kid on the block. For one thing, what kid would have a name that fascinated people like that?
Way to go: Old Weird Harold was the most fascinating kid on the block. For one thing, what kid would have a name that captures attention so immediately? (adapted, with gratitude, from a phrase by Footprints author, Kay Roberts)
Less interesting: Old Weird Harold always wore a brown hat on his head. Every time he took his brown hat off, the young man bowed.
Way to go: Old Weird Harold always wore a brown hat on his head. Every time he removed his signature head gear, the young man bowed.
3. Keep your tenses straight.
This is one of the hardest concepts for many, even experienced writers. Well, I include myself as experienced here. Maybe other experienced writers never have this problem. Anyway, the issue is sticking to either past or present tense, or using the conditional if warranted. To be specific:
Wrong-o: Jason went into the forest. He hears a whooshing sound.
Right: Jason went into the forest. He heard a whooshing sound.
I know, it’s tempting to want to jump into the present tense to make the story more tense. Examine what you mean to say. Maybe you should be writing the whole section in the present tense:
Jason enters the forest. He hears a whooshing sound.
Just be sure your story hangs together in a timeline. You can certainly move in and out of the past and present, and propel characters into the future in one project. But keep the story line logical by making sure that whichever episode you are describing is clearly in whatever time zone you mean it to be.
Next article: Make your story come alive!
*The above is excerpted from the upcoming book by Hillebrandt, "How to Write Your Memoirs...The Toolbox Edition" (c) 2012 Ina S. Hillebrandt. All rights reserved. Except for review purposes, not to be reprinted in part or in whole, in any media, without permission from Pawpress. For inquiries Contact Ina
I just noticed how long it's been since I've written in here. And I blame it all on the new arrivals, Samantha and Fiona Cat, now about 8 months old, here since they were about 4 months of age. Well, there has been a lot to do on our video project (more soon about that), and an upcoming book. But the cats have also taken their toll.
Every day since they arrived it's been like this:
7:00 am: Wake up, have coffee. I don't care what else is going on, without 17 cups, well, OK, 4, my eyes won't focus.
7:05: Clean the litter box(es).
7:10: Sip coffee while feeding the furred ones. This means keeping Samantha, a born vulture, at her own plate so Grazer Pix won't get hers cleaned prematurely by the Little Interloper, or her sister Fiona. See, once they finish their own food, Sam and Fiona crouch nearby and stare at Pix, menacingly. Pix is cowed by this behavior, and abandons her food.
Unless I intervene, Sam especially gets fat and Pix is left to nibble dry food.
So I have got wily. I now put Pix's plate in my office, lure her in with me and then leave her to munch while I go back to tidy up the kitchen, and yes, clean the litter box in the bathroom, again. Once Pix is done in the office, I go back to let her out, and to clean that litter box. For little creatures they sure poop a lot. And yes, I now have a litter box in my office.
You cat owners out there, did you ever notice that as soon as you clean the litter box one or another of your little furred friends has to make his or her mark in the sand?
8:00 You know the drill. Sigh.
The rest of the day is interwoven with cleanouts, referring fights and playing fetch with Samantha. Used to be Pix's game. Now, to get Pix to resume her role, I have to close us both up in the office for playtime, too. Otherwise, Sam takes over the toys.
In Facebook, I mentioned that I brought Fiona home to keep Pix company.
Next time remind me to tell you about the trauma we faced when I brought Sam home to keep Fiona company.
Back to Writing Tips!
And even to jot down some more memoir writing tips. Here are some of Ina's Weird Prompts (TM) to get ya started. These are more for flexing and lubricating writing muscles than specifically for memoir-writing. But I have found often that people in my classes find links in their minds to treasured memories from these little lines. Have fun with them!
What is it with nicknames, I mean, why do some people resent them? In my family, we all had them, the more the merrier. Nicknames were a normal part of our lives, and when we were called by them, we felt fuzzy and warm.
My dad was dubbed Moose, and called Moosie at times, by his four brothers and sisters when they were growing up in Bryn Mawr, PA. He was tall and broad, not fat, just substantial. As a grownup he not only created his own furniture wearing his interior designer hat, but could carry even a sofa by himself. I wish I knew everyone else's names from that generation, but sadly they're all gone now and I can't ask. I think one of my uncles, Kal, might have been nicknamed Cream Cheese for his Cream Cheese Theory of Politics.
I called my brother Conrad by a lot of different nicknames, Cornrad one of the earliest. At one point, because he got a little chunky around the midsection and loved French fries, I alternately called him Cornfat and Crinkle Cut. For some reason, my brother didn't like either of these. Which of course made me use them all the more often, especially in front of his friends.
My own nicknames, coming straight from my dad, were always a marvel to me. He'd referred to me as a little minx, but the way it came out when I said it was "Binx." So, first came The Binx. Then, Binxley, and when he was being formal, Binxleigh. Earlier I'd been called Ina Wee, my middle name being Lee, which I also couldn't pronounce. In due time, my official nickname became Ina Wee the Binx Bunnicle. Bunnicle came from Bunny of course, and the bunny was because I only had two front teeth for a while. Plus I loved carrots. Still do, but no one calls me the Bunnicle nowadays.
My former husband's name was Charles Barry, and in good southern tradition (he hailed from Lake Charles, Louisiana), his best friend always referred to him by the initial of his first name. So to JB, Barry was always, "C."
When my daughter Nicole came along, tradition naturally took over. She laughed a lot when she was on the changing table, but was also fussy, colicky for a while. So she became, "Fussy Fuss Pot," when she wasn't being referred to as "Rooster" for the early morning wakeup calls.
One day a southern friend of Barry's came to visit. He asked, "Where's the tot?" Next time he visited, it was, "Where is T. Tot?" Soon it was just "Where's T?" Then, I began calling her by the Dad-type amalgam: T. Pot. I used to try to get Nicole to use the French nickname, Coco, which I think is elegant and fun, and of course reminds me of Chanel. But, no dice. So I still call her T, and when I'm being formal, T. Pot. This is a name known to a few family members only, so please don't spread it around.
The reason I'm thinking about all this is that recently I referred to a new friend I'm working with, whose name is Todd, as Toddlette. He shot back, "That's Toddwyn." Seeing that's far more elegant, I immediately switched over.
Then another person we're working with, Nicole, asked how Toddwyn came about. Todd's reply, "I don't want to be called anything that sounds even remotely like a toilet." Fair enough.
Now, I'm working on a nickname for the new Nicole. She's already known as Nikki, and I am of course calling her Nik, pronounced "Nick." But something better will emerge…maybe Nik the Twoth.
NOTE: This post, along several others you will find here, was originally on the Footprints blog. I have moved it here to connect with my new website.
Hi, and glad to see you! My blog features memoir and fiction writing tips for you out there aiming to create enchanting memoirs and flights of fancy of your own; new "Pawprints," those close encounters of the furry kind, by moi; and topical comments as they bang on my head to be written. Plus: videos featuring talented authors I'm privileged to work with, reading live, Coming...your life stories, here. Got one you want to share? Use our form to be considered.