Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Should you tell it like it is or show it as it was?

A few weeks ago, my writing partners, Sioux, Lynn, and I went to the main county library to see guest speaker, Mary Karr, author of The Liar's Club, Cherry, Lit and her new book, Art of Memoir.

She was personable, real, a little salty, and likable as she revealed her techniques for writing memoir. She admitted she is 27 years sober, does her best writing in the early morning and once she's distracted she loses it and must stop. She tossed out 1,200 pages of Lit. She said many writers develop an attachment to their words and are afraid to delete. The delete button is a friend. Some
days she tosses as much as she writes. I got the idea she is  little hard on herself, a bit of a perfectionist.

Her last published book does not make it any easier for her to write the next. Mary Karr, like the rest of us, still has her doubts and insecurities. "It's like pounding on a corpse shouting, "Sit up!"

I agree with Mary, you uncover so many buried truths when you write memoir.
"As you remember through the filter of SELF, your self changes, and therefore your truth changes.You become more yourself. Being cathartic is a side gift."

You have to decide what to resurrect. She says she runs her memories by the people she's writing about.

"Every dysfunctional family has more than one person in it." Mary often omits dialogue because she doesn't want to contrive it if she can't remember it.

The audience laughed when she said she told her mom what she was going to write about, and her mom said, "Oh hell, Mary, everyone in town knows about that. Write it. Get it off your chest. Do you mean they'll pay you for our story, even if the words don't sell?"

Mary Karr's finest points for me:

"Memoir is knocking yourself out with your own fist." I had to agree. The tough stuff requires some hard gut punches.

"Truth is what you remember, but truth of memory is not history."

"If memory has an emotional consequence, it becomes real, and you can recall things most important to you."

"The face tells a story."

"Write deeply, emotionally. What would you write if you were not afraid?"

"Write about dysfunction with love...how you were then, not with revenge or your suffering at the time."

In her book, Art of Memoir, Karr said "...it took me fifteen years of scribbling- first poetry, then fiction- to tell my childhood story in a voice that fit my face. I hid from my readers on pages that sugarcoated any emotional truths about us all., part of an overall effort to sanitize our past and remold myself into somebody smarter, faster, funnier than harsh reality had afforded me to become."

"Labels are an easy way out. I never labeled my mother an alcoholic. I showed myself pouring out her vodka."

We all have a story inside. 

Are you ready to write yours?

A paragraph a day. Just get started. It may be a prettied up poem or even a harsh one. Write it for your eyes only. But write it!


BECKY said...

Hi Linda! I just got this book from the library and it looks really good. I also picked up four others, (fiction) so I may have to renew it a time or two ;)
Glad you got to see and hear Mary. I considered it, but have really gotten lazy about driving so far, especially in the evenings.

Bookie said...

Great post...wish I had the energy to work on my story....

Sioux said...


I hope you are going to follow your own advice, since you have a wonderful memoir inside your head... and it's just itching to get written down.

Susan said...

Sounded like a fun evening, Linda. I've often thought of doing a memoir but don't want to offend anyone in my family. Some people are very private, you know? (I'm the only one in my family who has a blog, for instance. They think it's too public. ha!) Anyway, Linda, thanks for all your visits, too. Sincerely, Susan

Val said...

I must not be ready. Most of it is already written, but I lack focus on putting it together in a meaningful way.

K9friend said...

I really regret missing this presentation. Thanks for summarizing what she had to say.


thisisme said...

Sounds like a really interesting Presentation, Linda. Loved the bit about what her mum said! You must have a Memoir inside your head, surely?!

Gerry Mandel said...

September 8, 2016 at 7:00 PM - Mary Karr at SLCL.
I had it on my calendar, Linda, circled, so I wouldn't miss it.
Friday morning I checked my calendar and noticed what I had missed.
Thursday evening was a blur, probably did nothing of import.
I'm so glad you wrote about her and views on memoir. I got her Art of Memoir from the library, read it (most of it), love the way she writes. And yes, she sounds tough, outspoken, gets right to what she wants to say. After reading her book, I don't think I have the guts to write about me. That's hard work, as you know.
I totally agree with one of her thoughts that you mentioned: "Truth is what you remember, but truth of memory is not history."
I am sorry I missed her appearance, but grateful you resurrected part of the evening for me. Thanks.

Lynn said...

It was a great event and I am glad I went. I've been delving more into memoir and so... just getting it out is the first step.