A couple of weeks ago I met a friend for coffee and while talking about boyfriends, husbands and relationships, she said, you should read this book called The Road Less Traveled. I wrote down the name and last weekend I went straight to one of my favorite bookstores to look for it.
When visiting this particular bookstore my first stop is near the entrance where the new books are displayed on low tables. The Memoir Project and Sex at Dawn caught my eye and after adding The Road Less Traveled to the other two I was able to notice that my reading taste was craving a new flavor. Maybe it was time, I said to myself, to take a little break from the world of novels and go for something more contemporary.
The Memoir Project – Marion Roach Smith
When I saw the slim book at the bookstore, I had a mixed reaction, part curiosity and part snicker. Nevertheless, curiosity being the stronger of the two, the book found its way into my hands and they were turning the pages before I even had time to consider other options.
The only other book about writing that I’ve read was Stephen King’s “On Writing”, and just like the first time I held that book, I was baffled by the size. Weren’t these types of books supposed to be thicker? I imagined them bulging with brilliant ideas and solid advice on “how to”, the kind that would make a wannabe writer like me run to her computer and start typing in a frenzy, pushing ideas aside as they swarm up and try to take over. Ha! If only it were that easy!
The snickering part knew that of course such a book doesn’t really exist, that there is no magic formula one can say or apply to get that book inside you out and on the paper, and that these “writing manuals” are merely the tools in the work-box and it’s up to the aspiring writer to figure out a way to use them to pen that first draft.
There are many interesting ideas in the book and while I would like to discuss them all, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for whoever might be curious enough to actually pick up the book after reading this post (now that’s an idea!). Together with “write what you know and write it your way”, “everyone has a story” and “think in propinquities”, to name just a few, came a concept that made me laugh out loud. That was “the vomit draft”. So that’s what I was doing a few days ago when I was seized with the urge of scribbling out the beginning of my blog post about Amy Winehouse. I was busy vomiting up my first draft and in the middle of the supermarket no less! Go figure. At least the mess I made was only visible to my eyes.
The concept of hospitality doesn’t apply only when you’re having guests. Be hospitable is a nice and probably good piece of advice. The author believes you must set a time and a space for writing. It sounds much like a job: I’ll be there between 9 and 5 with a break for lunch. I have been guilty of writing when the fancy takes me, and that very few times included a schedule. In fact, I think the best writing I’ve done was away from the desk. Sometimes I write in bed, or on the balcony or scribble in a taxi on my way to work (not easy but not impossible either) or on a bench in the park. That makes for very infrequent bursts of writing but many times also the best. I always saw these moments as “when it comes you better be prepared” kind of thing. That’s also when I realize I don’t have either a pencil or a piece of paper but I try to prevent that.
Sure, I do recognize the validity of the advice. In setting a time and a space for writing you get more used to the whole process and chances are you’ll find it easier with time.
I always have ideas percolating somewhere at the back of my mind but to sit down and “vomit” on command seldom works. I tried to do that in the past but it hasn’t worked out for me. Just the idea that I have to sit down and write at a certain time makes my words run away screaming.
Writing a memoir may be a challenging work but at least you’ll be writing what you know. The information is yours, and even if your sister/mother/uncle can give a totally different account of how things really happened, in the end it’s just a matter of perception. Very true. That would explain why my sister always hated our visits to a certain aunt’s house – it was boring, she said – and why I loved them because that aunt had an impressive book collection where I happened to find Karl May’s Winnetou, one of the best reads of my childhood (and one I would very much like to read again someday).
I didn’t find any major faults with this book. The information is based on a lot of common sense and good advice which has worked for the author. She gives examples and one can see how the story gets to be written and what triggered it. The best way is to pick the ideas that work for you and try to put them to good use.
A useful read.
Coming up next: The Road Less Traveled. I finished the book but it will take a little while for the words to find me.
*Read in July 2011