In my last blog post, I wrote about how author Elizabeth Rosner used a structural technique to add subtext to her novel. In today’s post, I share an example from a memoir.
In Lisa Dale Norton’s memoir Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills, she wrote 12 sections called “Notebooks” that created connections between chapters. Norton’s idyllic childhood ended when her parents divorced when Norton was 12. After 13 years of drifting, attending college, and surviving a rape where she was left for dead, Norton returned to Ericson, Nebraska. She began writing stories intertwined with threads of the landscape and its impact on her imagination and identity.
Norton weaves natural images of plants, wildlife and the landscape of her childhood summer home in Nebraska with an account of her search for self as she returns to the Sandhills, her childhood home.
“By lying close to the land, skin to sand, bone to wind, I believed I could merge with the grasses, with the hills. I believed I could become whole again. I did not know this on a conscious level.” Read more
I’m a learning junkie, so I’m always excited to find new resources.
A One Wild Word reader alerted me to Academic Earth, which features a collection of free online courses from top universities, including MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.
While it’s not the same as sitting in the classroom, and you don’t receive college credit, you’ll find class notes, suggested reading, and videos of lectures.
Here are several classes in the humanities category:
Writing and Reading Short Stories
The American Novel Since 1945
While you’re at it, check out this 2-minute video about the late Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451: A Novel.
Writing a first draft is our opportunity as artists to follow the flow of our creativity, to let go and see where it takes us. Subsequent drafts are where we enter our editor mind and make sense of it all.
I do a lot of literary throat clearing in my first drafts. I used to worry about it and tried to fix it as I went, but I learned that was a waste of time. I learned some of what I’d written would be cut, so why waste time line-editing sentences before I’ve edited for plot or meaning?
When I am ready to examine my work at the sentence level, one thing I do is search for my throat-clearing words or phrases. These are empty or repetitious words that weaken my writing.
What I’ve noticed is they change over time. Evidently, I’m an evolutionary throat clearer. Read more
Obstacles. Life is full of them. And so is a good story. Obstacles in storytelling not only keep your readers reading but, according to author Robert Dugoni at the recent Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference, obstacles show us our characters’ strengths.
Think of Harry Potter and all the obstacles he encountered. Through these obstacles we see that Harry is smart, loyal, honest, brave, and a good friend.
Just as important, we believe the end of Harry’s journey because we’ve seen him shine in action.
Ask yourself: What obstacles confront your characters? What do these obstacles show about your characters?
Renowned author Ray Bradbury has an assignment for writers who want to improve their craft.
Read one short story, one poem, and one essay every night for 1,000 nights.
At the end of 1,000 nights, your head will be full of ideas and metaphors along with your own experiences and observations of the people in your life. His aim is for us to make new metaphors out of all of these ideas and images that are bouncing around in our heads. In other words, stuff your head with literature. Read more
Something magical happens when I’m reading analytically. I’m jolted by bursts of insight and inspiration for my own writing. Because I’ve seen the power of reading for myself, I advise other writers to create their own reading list for whatever projects they’re working on.
If you’re looking for inspiration on an element of craft, such as dialogue or structure, read how another writer pulled it off. One of the mind-altering effects of studying for an MFA came from reading and analyzing so much literature. Even reading stories that had nothing to do with my memoir sparked ideas for my own writing.
Here are several tips for creating a reading list:
Read books from multiple genres. If you’re writing a memoir, read fiction, memoirs, and poetry. Reading poetry helped me raise my consciousness of words and meaning. This carried over into my prose and spurred me to write poetry of my own. Read more
I was inspired to think about revising my writing when I watched Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman accept her award for best actress in a motion picture.
As she thanked Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky at the 2011 show, she spoke about what it was like to work with him. “Every time we’d finish our takes, he’d say, ‘Now do this one for yourself.’”
That was Aronofsky’s way of recognizing Portman’s ability and opportunity to take her craft to the next level.
Some writers dread the revision part of writing. Others love it. I maintain that the rewrite is where the writing actually happens. We are the ultimate owners of the final product. So once you’ve written your first draft, then revised and revised…. and revised. Do one more revision — this time for yourself. Try these scene editing and rewriting techniques for your next “take.”