WHAT INSPIRES YOU? What are you reading? What are you listening to? When writing memoir, are you aware just how positive an influence media can be? If not, you are missing one of the great helpers for those who struggle to write what they know. That’s right: Help. It’s all around you, if only you know how to identify it.
Writing memoir is a DIY world. And while everyone seems to want to write memoir, when confronted with the blank screen, many of us walk away, unable to get from the ideas whirling in our heads, to simple, plain, sentences on the page. And when the students from my classes struggle with this, I always ask what they are reading and listening to, and remind them of the lifeline that media can be.
What always amazes me is how varied these influences are, as well as how helpful. For instance, the other day, while listening to country music–which I frequently do for the fabulous lyrics—the singer stated that he was so happy that he “could not ask for more.” And that got me thinking. So I scribbled down in my notebook – you do remember that you always keep a notebook by your side, right? – “what would it take to get you to a place where you could not ask for more?” It’s a great question, and one that a good writer could take on at any length, from a blog post, to a personal essay, to a book-length memoir.
What’s on your playlist these days? Nothing come to mind? I’m glad to share my personal sisterhood playlist. Maybe one of these songs will inspire you.
Memoir writing is not all music and lyrics, of course. Later that same day on which I heard that country music song, I was reading The Chronicle of Higher Education. Perhaps that is not what you might think as a fine place from which to get writing inspiration. It is. I read it as part of my work as trustee of St. Lawrence University, my alma mater, and in this particular issue, I came upon a fascinating interview published just before the astonishing Chilean miner rescue. The interview was with the medical anthropologist, Lawrence Palinkas, in which he used the phrase, “post-traumatic growth.” This fascinated me, so much so that later that week, I read aloud the section to my memoir class. So often we hear about post traumatic stress. I’d never heard a positive spin on it before, and as I told my class about this reading, I pointed to those members of the class whose essays and books are about this kind of growth. I think it inspired them. I know it inspired me.
So what are you hearing or reading? What cues can you snatch from the airwaves, or from the reading you do for work, or for fun?
Now that you are writing memoir, you need to give yourself this kind of permission: to read and listen, and to use those cues to inspire your work. It’s all there for you. You merely have to be open to the possibility of being inspired.
So write on.