THE BEST MEMOIR WRITING knows its limits. It does not take on too much. It does not take on too little. It takes on exactly enough and stays with it until it’s done. To illustrate this idea in my class, I’ll hold up my hands about shoulder width, thumbs up, fingers facing forward and pretend to be taking a slice out of someone’s timeline. “Just give me this much,” I’ll say, and if I get a blank look, I’ll usually offer, “Just go from here to there.” If I am working as a memoir editor or developmental editor over the phone, I’ll probably talk about the “here to there” of the best memoir writing.
What is your favorite here to there? What small, interesting distances have you traveled once or twice – or seemingly endless amounts of time – until you got something right? For instance, have you ever lost your sense of humor and then a few days, or weeks, or months later felt the beginning of the lip curl that announces that once again, maybe for the first time in a while, you are finding something funny? That’s a story, and one worth pondering. How, and with the help of what and whom, do we get back a lost sense of humor, and who are with we without it, and who do we become again when we get it back?
All too often memoir writers try to go too big. They want to write autobiography when all we want to read is something that goes from here to there. Give us too much, and it goes by in a blur of details we cannot use. Give us just the right amount of story and we can hold it against our hearts and think long and hard about the value of humor – or grace, poise or honor – and its place in our lives.
So what is your list of here to theres? Mine includes numerous times when I lost my my sense of humor, several times when I literally lost my way in life, a magnificent moment when I had a near occasion to faith after years of non-belief, and many, many more.
So go from here to there.
And write about it.