In classes I teach and my current work-in-progress, the second edition of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing (or whatever name it finally bears), I emphasize the value of writing piles of short, free-standing stories, even if students or readers plan a longer project. Today it is my pleasure to feature a guest post by Kathleen Pooler, author of Ever Faithful to His Lead. In this post, Kathleen explains her writing process, including a long list of resource links.
“Your sacred place is where you find yourself again and again.”
Writing a memoir goes beyond recording a series of life events. It’s about creating a larger story and in so doing developing meaning and connection; striking a universal chord through your unique story.
In order to get to that meaning and connection, a writer needs to find the heart of the story.
When I started writing my first memoir in 2009, I only knew that I was living a joyful life after spending twenty-five years finding freedom from two abusive marriages. I knew I had a story to tell, but I wasn’t sure of the real story—that glimpse of life truth that would have meaning and connection.
After three years of studying the art and craft of memoir writing and writing piles of vignettes, I was ready in 2012 to pull it together into a memoir. Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse was published in July,2014. I recently completed the first draft of my second memoir, The Edge of Hope: A Mother’s Journey Through her Son’s Addiction (working title) and am applying the same methods to shaping my story.
Basic Plan to Get Started
Here’s my basic plan on how I found the heart of my story over a two-year period in the pile of paper and words:
1. First and foremost, answer this question: What is my purpose in writing this story? For me, it was to share hope, that no matter how far down into the abyss you go, there’s always hope for a better life.
2. From this purpose, define your target audience and main message. A memoir can have several themes that I found revealed themselves through the writing.
3. Be able to state your main message in a 90-second elevator pitch.
4. Write a two-three page synopsis of your story, keeping the narrative arc in mind.
5. Plot your story on a storyboard or in a detailed outline. I used a story board.
Events leading up to using a storyboard:
Before I could even think of storyboarding, I had to write vignettes. After three years of collecting stories, I was ready to shape them into a narrative arc. A memoir needs to read like a novel and requires the tools of fiction to bring the story and the characters alive.
Point of View
Conflict, Suspense and Action
I also used creative exercises such as “The Tree of Me”
and drawing a mandala:
The following resources have provided a framework for my stories:
If you google “story board”, you’ll find many resources. Here are a few that helped me decide what process to use:
I used a mixture of storyboarding, outlining turning points and The Hero’s Journey to define my story structure.
What is a Story Board?
A story board is a way of brainstorming your story line (plot) so you can visualize a narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end. Within this arc will be scenes, turning points, forward movement of the story, plot points, climax, movement toward change and resolution.
How Did I Develop My Own Story Board?
Each person needs to find their own way through the process.
Since I’m a visual, hands-on person, I needed to see graphic images of what my story looked like. I started with a tri-folded cardboard poster, colored post-it notes and felt markers. I read through all my vignettes and wrote each chapter and the year on the yellow post-it stars. On the orange post-it stars, I wrote the purpose for each Act
and I rearranged it many times.
My story is divided into three acts (Pixar):
Act I: Opening Scene: The way things were…Once upon a time…
Act II Big Scene or Messy Middle…When things might change…then this happened…
Act III Following Scene…How things became different—until this happened and finally…
Of course, this is just the beginning. The real work begins with professional editing and rewriting until your story is polished and ready to launch.
Anything as important as your story is worth the effort it will take to write it right.
And the beauty of the writing process is that the heart of your story will begin to reveal itself in ever-deepening ways as you keep writing.
Starting with vignettes and fitting them into a story structure in a way that works for you will help you shape a story larger than you that will create meaning and connection.
And remember, your story matters. Keep writing and you’ll find the heart of your story.
How about you? What methods do you use to find the heart of your story? I’d love to hear what has worked for you and will be happy to answer any questions.
Kathleen Pooler is an author and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published on July 28, 2014 and work-in-progress sequel, The Edge of Hope (working title) are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.
She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York and blogs weekly at Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: http://krpooler.com
Twitter @kathypooler https://twitter.com/KathyPooler
LinkedIn: Kathleen Pooler: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kathleen-pooler/16/a95/20a
Google+:Kathleen Pooler: https://plus.google.com/109860737182349547026/posts
Personal page, Kathy Pooler : https://www.facebook.com/kathleen.pooler
Author page: Kathleen Pooler/Memoir Writer’s Journey: https://www.facebook.com/memoirwritersjourney