I added a couple of new links to the Survival page, which is an ongoing project.
Writerly advice is sometimes repetitive (do the work, do the work, do the work), sometimes contradictory (write the book you want to read, write knowing that nobody owes you their time and you need to write in gratitude for your reader’s attention.) Mostly I read it and forget it, bottom out, then rediscover it, drag it around like a binky for a while, lose it, forget it, bottom out, start over.
This is pretty much how Lynda Barry frames the creative process in What It Is. You remember how creative work happens while you’re doing it, then you stop for the day, come back the next day, and you’re starting from scratch again, scared of the blank page. What It Is is a wonderful book, and that piece of it has really stuck with me. I remember, I forget, I remember, I forget. Apparently I’m not alone.
A good post over at Writing is My Drink, about what makes a good memoir. I admit I’ve been guilty of generalizing about modern memoir as a genre, from time to time–and I think the thing that bothers me about some memoirs I’ve read is in part what’s touched on here: books that narrate event rather than story. More pithily, from Claire Dederer:
Thinking the event is the story is the biggest mistake of student writers. The transformation of the self is the story.
I’ve been finishing Black Boy, by Richard Wright. It’s a memoir (or, as they said back in the day when it was published, an “autobiography”) of growing up black in Mississippi in the early twentieth century. It’s serious stuff, and it’s beautifully written. It’s sort of staggering, really, that he writes with such elegance and restraint and emotion and insight. It’s rare for anyone to write like that, but someone who grew up half-starved, emotionally stunted, in an atmosphere of constant scarcity, abuse, and tension? And somehow he writes about his life, and his emotional and mental development, in a way that a privileged twenty-first-century white Canadian woman can feel and understand deeply.
So, obviously I don’t dislike memoir as a genre. And honestly I never thought I did. I’ve read many autobiographies, memoirs, and travel narratives, and loved them. The ones I loved most not only had something substantial to say about a certain time, places, and experience of the world–but they said it artfully. And honestly, if someone says something artfully, with magic and style, then that’s their substance right there. Event–or lack of it–doesn’t matter.
A random assortment of memoirs I have loved.
I admire folks who can post regularly to their blogs — there’s a definitely accumulator effect, whereby the more you say, the more there is to say. What I find is, the less I say (or have time to post, at least) the less I have to say. Breaking back through the ice isn’t pretty.
But here’s what there is: we saw Hanna last weekend. Awesome and great. For lots of reasons. I’m reading Richard Wright, Black Boy. Awesome and great, for lots of reasons. Also sad and awful for lots of reasons. We’re watching Parks and Rec in spare moments. Awesome and great. It’s (kind of) spring. Awesome. And great.
All these things are recommended. More recommended experiences later.
Richard Wright, courtesy Marquette University Archives.