Category Archives: writing process

my friend’s blog post: “one reason not to publish a memoir”

My friend Laura McHale Holland has written a thought-provoking post as a guest blogger on Kathy Pooler’s site. Anyone writing–or interested in writing–memoir can benefit by reading her post.

Here’s the link, and her picture is below: http://wp.me/p1vAO5-3kn

laura-mchale-holland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy!
Skye

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Reading and five minute video

Hot Summer Nights 7-2016

August 26th, I took part in “Hot Summer Nights”–Tuesdays in July when four members of Redwood Writers, the largest branch of the California Writers Club, read from recently their published books at Copperfield’s Book Store in Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, CA. This is the fourth year Copperfield’s has partnered with us on this event.

Here’s a five minute clip my friend Beth filmed: https://youtu.be/auw1c9uoiJY

Enjoy!

 

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family trouble

I’ve been reading a book of essays by memoirists called Family Trouble, compiled by Joy Castro. The essays explore the challenges that come from writing about family and friends, and their possible reactions to what is revealed. I’ve learned from this book that when people get upset, it’s never what the writer expected would be upsetting. It might be a tiny detail of how a person was characterized. In some cases, revelations have brought families closer.

“First person point of view requires me to say who I am and where I’m standing when I look into the world, find something I think is worth reporting, and speak of it to the reader. In investigating this perspective and its sources of understanding and authority, I have to be able to write about what I see and where I stand–and therefore the places and people that have shaped me–with both honesty and clarity.” from the essay  “Things We Don’t Talk About” by Aaron Raz Link pg 157 of Family Trouble.

My take: tell my truth, remember that the other person is simply the same awareness clothed in a different form. I dive deep to mine my own weaknesses as well as the other peoples’ in the story. I do not write to blame anyone; I write to understand.
© Skye Blaine, 2015

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writing discipline

time-to-writeFor a long time, I fussed with finding a good time to write. Since I’m still working–although at home and for myself–when I write during the day, I feel guilty. The guilt is a waste of time, but it’s there. I can’t deny it.

As I age, falling asleep has become more difficult. My husband goes to bed at 10 p.m. I used to head for bed at the same time, and then would lie awake for hours. One night as I lay there, restless and not wanting to wake my partner, I realized I could be writing. I got up, found my slippers, and padded into my office. That started what has been a long period of refreshing discipline. We say goodnight at ten, and I go to write until midnight. I may miss a night every few weeks, but in general, that’s my pattern.

This has been a very fruitful time: the house is quiet and the phone doesn’t ring. These aren’t work hours, so no guilt. My adult son, who keeps an odd schedule, knows not to call me after ten unless he’s seriously ill or hurt. Since he writes too, he honors my writing time. In the last year, working within this schedule, I’ve finished the first draft of a novel and the final rewrite of my memoir. I’ve been amazed at what I’ve completed only carving out two hours a day.

I usually begin by reviewing what I wrote the night before, then I move into new terrain. Right now I’m rewriting the novel, so I’m not generating as much new material. But some evenings, like tonight, I write a blog post, a nice change from rewriting. When I do finally put my computer to sleep and toddle off to bed, I stay with my story. I may fall asleep puzzling over a thorny plot problem, and in the morning, the solution is apparent. Sometimes, I have an epiphany about how to deepen one of my characters.

An old friend I’ve known for forty-one years is staying overnight. Nonetheless, we said goodnight at ten, and I headed for my office. She’s a writer, too; she understands.

I didn’t find the time to write, I made it.

© Skye Blaine, 2015
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research

prosthetic-leg_sapdI’ve done a fair amount of research on the internet for my novel–I’ve checked into leg prosthetics, PTSD, cortical blindness, and “cane travelers”–the proper use of a white cane. I explored possible names for Afghani children, and the kinds of typical family compounds in Afghanistan.

But there is still research needed that can only be done on the ground. I need to return to Oregon, both Eugene and Sisters, to check where I’ve set my story. Sure, I inquired into what plants grow in central Oregon, and used Google Earth to figure out where the large, rural ranch might be located. I spoke to a wildlife specialist about the behavior of cougars. I’m always delighted by how friendly and helpful people are when I contact them.

But nothing takes the place of sniffing the air, feeling the plants, and talking to the people who actually live there. In Sisters, there are five places I need to go: Sisters Inn, Martolli’s Pizza, Paulina Springs Books, the feed store. And I need to drive out the road I’ve picked for the ranch to see if it’s actually possible to set part of my story there. If not, I’ll talk to the residents and figure out a different location.

I’m sorry I can’t go to Afghanistan and taste the dust. My budget doesn’t allow for that.

Sometime in 2015, I need to schedule the Oregon trip.

© Skye Blaine, 2015
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final, final edits

editingIt is my understanding that there are three kinds of writers: native storytellers, wordsmiths, and the rarest-of-rare, those born who are proficient in both. Native storytellers can blast out a first draft–they have a natural sense of story arc. Wordsmiths–I am one of these–love editing and rewriting, and agonize getting the story down on paper. The language may be lovely; the story arc may have flaws that take multiple rewrites to solve. The rare writers born with both skills–perhaps one or two in a generation–are truly blessed.

I heard an apocryphal story of a writer racing down the sidewalk behind his or her editor–who is carrying off the book to be published–crying “I just need to make two more changes! That’s all!” That would be me.

The memoir, Bound to Love, is undergoing one more read by my husband, who is quite good at finding typos, and then will go to a precious editor friend for a final read-through before publishing. After twenty-three years (I had to learn to write), ten rewrites, and one professional editing a few years ago, I’ve got to call it DONE.

My novel, Call Her Home, is undergoing a second rewrite now. I started it fifteen months ago, and I hope to have it completed by the end of 2015.

I plan to spend 2016 framing my blog posts  as a manuscript from http://www.theheartofthematter-dailyreminders.org. A blog is very different from a book; the material requires serious rewriting, finding the frame, and giving it shape. A big, big job.

© Skye Blaine, 2015
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fistfuls of heart

My old friend Margaret Barkley wrote this poem about the writing process. I asked her if I could share it here. Please do not forward it on without her permission.

Fistfuls of Heart

If everyone has something to say,
how is a writer different?

The desire to write, to commit words to paper,
is like deciding to let your own arm reach
down your throat
and muck about with your insides,
grabbing fistfuls of heart, teeth, and
half-digested longing,
and pull it out for everyone to see.

And I wonder why I have
some resistance…

Just sit in the chair, they say.
Just write.

And I do, but I’m dodgy about it.
There is always something safer to do,
like laundry, for example,
that extracts no blood at all.

Maybe all prophets and storytellers
are reluctant – I don’t know about that –
but I know that there comes a time
when there is a clamor of words in order
from within, saying –
Hey, write me down!

and they harass me till I do.

© Margaret Barkley, April 16, 2015

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the healing power of writing

Anne Lamott quoteRecently, in my Friday afternoon memoir group, our leader, Steve Boga, read a piece detailing the research and the health benefits for people who write about difficult passages in their lives. Please check out the article written last year by Rachel Grate for the full story. In brief, writing reduces depression, lowers blood pressure, and people who write spend less time in hospitals.

I have discovered another amazing outcome of memoir writing: reflecting back, even on events that occurred long ago, can catalyze life-changing epiphanies. In my experience, these insights don’t arrive until we have the capacity–and perhaps the willingness, even if it is unconscious–to welcome them.

I think of it this way: I write myself alive.

© Skye Blaine, 2015

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writing memoir, take two

Writing the truth about one’s younger self is daunting. It has required rigorous self-examination, and the willingness to admit my weaknesses and flaws.

I kept a running list of scenes that I needed to tackle, so each day, when I sat down to write, I had a place to start. I’d pick a scene from that list that felt alive, or “hot,” and began typing.

The very process of considering an event, and parsing for just the right words to express my experience, often brought long-forgotten detail to the surface. I also spoke to people from that time and asked questions about what they remembered. I did not, however, contact my ex-husbands during the writing process. I felt the need to stay with my own experience–even though I knew it was one-sided. I didn’t have the gumption to exhume those painful failures with them again. It wasn’t the time.

When I first began writing about my life, mentors encouraged me to write without filtering–to “tell my whole truth.” I wrote for self-discovery about myself as a parent, partner, and human being. Now that the memoir is finished and approaching publication, I felt I must reach out to people included in the story to let them know I wrote about them. This included not only friends and two ex-husbands, but physicians as well.

I have no interest in blaming. What happened, happened–we all participated, and I know each of us handled ourselves as best as we could in that moment–even when that best looked like rage, betrayal, or weakness.

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writing memoir

I wrote the first words of my soon-to-be-published memoir, Bound to Love, twenty-three years ago, while recovering from being hit by a huge falling tree branch–a life-threatening accident. Getting struck broke open what had been frozen inside for twenty-five years: my internal response to cruel comments made by a college creative writing professor in 1963. I put my pen down.

In October, 1992 I could no longer deny the call. I wrote a letter first, to an abusive night shift nurse in the Sacred Heart Hospital recovery room. I wrote and re-wrote that letter before sending it to make sure it clearly depicted my experience of her bedside manner. It was my first time writing on the computer, and I discovered the joys of cut and paste. Then I wrote the first twenty pages of the memoir—and stalled. I needed to learn the craft of writing.

In December 1997, I discovered an online workshop called WriteLab, out of Pennsylvania State University. Twenty-six exercises were offered on all aspects of creative writing: point of view, tense, characterization, scene and sequel, and so on. I posted my attempts for critique. The exercises required either a 300 or 500 word submission. If they ran over the noted word limit, they would not be critiqued. I completed all the exercises, and I learned the first powerful lesson of writing: how to cut my work, honing it again and again. Although WriteLab is no longer active, I consider it a master class–it gave me a solid foundation for storytelling.

I joined a critique group. The first one had a leader, but soon after I became a member of a peer group, and remained with them for over ten years. I only left because I moved to a different state. In 2001, on the advice and encouragement of Robert Hill Long—who taught creative writing at the University of Oregon—I applied to MFA programs, and was accepted by Antioch University. I ended up fulfilling a dual concentration in both fiction and creative non-fiction, and during that two-and-a-half years, wrote a huge chunk of Bound to Love.

Recently, sorting through old papers, I found the 1963 story that had incited my professor’s nasty side. Of course, it had problems and was not a successful story. But in rereading it, I saw the bones of a writer who loved wordsmithing, and worked with delicacy to find just the right rhythm and flavor. I no longer remember the name of the professor, but if he could be found, I would surely take him to task for not encouraging his student. I still wonder what about my story elicited such vitriolic comments.

 

 

 

 

 

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