Writing Is All About Making Choices
figure out what to tell and figure out what not to tell. Because the art of memoir and the art of all writing is making choices. That's where writing is. You can't say it all. I mean, sometimes you know, Carl, there's like that my struggle, the 27,000 volume heating, make any choices and he's done very well. But for the rest of us, we have to make choices, and we have to make choices all the time. So when you are writing your memoir, you're constantly deciding what dough I include. What? Why not include? So in this book, for example, one of the choices I made was to play with time in a way that I might not have done in another memoir. So it is a one month narrative, but I allow myself to do some recollection, and I allow myself Teoh Ah, reorder some things. I'm very clear at the beginning. I tell the reader that, but there's there a lot of reasons for that. I wanted there were reasons that had to do with sort of the ark of the book, but there's also the fact that I was writing about an...
illegal activity. We have things like statutes of limitations. And I wanted to make sure that I protected everybody, including myself. So that was a choice I made. You're always making choices. Um, you are deciding, for example, what is important to reveal. What do I have to reveal here? Right. What supports the story? What story am I trying to tell? Because Oh, my God. My life is so painful. That's not really a story. What's the story you're trying to tell? What do I have to leave out To tell that story most effectively? What scab do I need to pick To make this interesting, compelling and important. And what should I just slap a bandage on tucked behind my back and keep for myself? And maybe, you know, my significant other, Um, when am I gonna air on the side of safe? And when am I gonna air on the side of dangerous? Those are the decisions you're gonna make. Um, sometimes you actually do have to make a choice to keep yourself physically safe. I mean, sometimes the stories that we have to tell put us in peril. And I don't want anybody in this room to go off until a story that gets him killed. So you know, please, but mostly the choices you make or about making the narrative better. Maybe this is a good time to stop and see if there any in term comments or questions. So we have one from Chris, he says. How do you deal with emotionally the negative and quite possibly hurtful comments about things which are very personal to you? Oh, so this is like a post public. So this is really you know, I've had to deal with us a lot a lot. Um, you know, I self protect. So let's say you write something here. Here's a great example. I wrote this essay many years ago that, um, I actually wrote it for a literary anthology, but it ended up in The New York Times, and when I agreed to let The New York Times reprinted, I had not never sort of made the connection in my head. Oh, what's the difference between writing your deepest, darkest secret in a literary anthology that nobody's gonna read on what's the and rewriting your deepest, darkest secret in the paper of record that conservatively five million people read on, and I just not maybe not been so smart in making that decision. But anyway, I wrote this essay that basically said that, um, if a good mother is a mother who loves her Children more than anyone else in the world, that I'm a bad mother because I loved my husband more than my Children and it set off a firestorm. And the I mean, it was interesting because The New York Times, which does not accept anonymous letters, got 1000 whatever really positive you met letters and emails. My e my email address from my my Web page, which accepts anything was just It was a tsunami of hate. And I mean, people do things like leave notes on my front gate saying Your Children should be taken away from you and I know where you live. That was the scariest thing you have to self protecting yourself, protect in certain ways. So one of the things I do is I do not read comments. One of the reasons I stopped writing for Salon is because they had comments, and I don't I can't. I love engaging with readers, but the comments page of websites are really perilous places for me. I get I take it all really personally. Um, here's how personally I take it. Daughter's Keeper by I. L. A. Waldman is like a John Sayles movie, well intentioned but about a subtle as a mean people suck bumper sticker. That is the first line of the San Francisco Chronicle review of my novel Daughter's Keeper. I read that once that book got like I don't know, 100 great reviews. I remember nothing about any of them. Of the Onley thing I remember from the entire experience of publishing that book is that one line which I member. I don't know my Children's birthdays, but I memorized that line, right? So I have to self protect more aggressively than some of you might. You might have like a big, a little bit of a thicker skin. So I don't read comments. I, um I don't even read reviews. My husband reads reviews and then passes them to me. If he thinks that they're acceptable because, you know, you may be like me, I'm just always find the one negative thing, and that's what I'll obsess about. So eso That's partly what I do what I what I don't dio is I don't second guess myself before I put it out there. If I feel if I have done my work, the work we're talking about today, if I have made a conscious choice, If I had said, If I have said to myself, this is worth exposing and it's and I've constructed it and I'm and I've done my work of making the narrative important and interesting and wise rather than just sort of impulsive. Then I don't second guessed myself. I am have this tattoo that says, Wait, that's because I am by nature impulsive person. So I wait. But I don't act out of fear. So, um, but then what do you do when you get the hate? I don't know, man. It could be really scary. You you look for the love you surround yourself. You have a writer's group or a group of friends or a group of family, and it's amazing how, um, how important that is. I encourage all of you to If you're going to be in the business of writing memoir, find yourself a core group of readers or fellow writers, and you can give each other the strengthen that support and sometimes you're going to need help making those early decisions. Is this worth putting out in the world is an important question that you you might need other people to ask. We're going to talk about that a little later. Hi. How you handle being around really uncomfortable material for a long period of time, like some of this material is stuff that you may want to put it down on paper, but it's just really rough to like. Yeah, for sure and improve. It s chew it over and over and over. So I think I will say this. If you cannot do that emotionally, then this is not the work for you, like you may need to write it and then put it away and wait a while and come back to it. That's a really great tool to do that. Like if it's too raw, it's too painful. It may not. There may never be enough room between what you have to say for yourself and your feelings, and then then you're a person who writes a diary, and that's fine. That's fine. But if you want to turn that diary in tow. A memoir. Then you have toe There has to be. You have to have the capacity to go back and dig in without becoming paralyzed. But like you know, you can get I I edited this collection of first person narratives of women in prison called Inside this Place. And, um, we sent people out all over the country into women's prisons, and they recorded or transcribed hours of these women talking about their lives. And the idea was, What do you experiencing in prison? And it kind of illuminated different human rights violations in the American prison system. And then it was my job to take that raw narrative and edited and compress it into something and and help, you know, figure out I never put it in my words, but sort of help figure out how to edit it into ah shape. And I think, you know, I don't want it. Sounds self aggrandizing to say that it was. I felt like I had PTSD during this, but there was a way that I couldn't shake that like I would come in from working all day, and I would have some of those classic symptoms of PTSD. I it was it was a scary time, but I had a greater purpose there. You know, my goal was to illuminate what was going on and what is going on in women's prisons. And so that kind of drove me forward, having that greater purpose, feeling like I was doing. It's for a reason. So I think that's what I would say to you. You say you put it aside for us, long as you need to put it aside, and then you figure out why you're doing it. What's your greater purpose? And you go in and keep that in mind and then, you know, make sure they're people around you who love you, who can help take care of you. Look at your list of three scary things. Cross out any truth that telling it would put you in physical danger, cross out anything boring, be cruel to yourself. Really cruel Look at it and say is objectively. If I read someone else writing about this, would I be bored? Pick the most interesting one and put a little star by it, Okay, We're gonna come back to that