Friday, August 28, 2009

F&M Week Day 7: Memoir Kerfuffle

INTERN was late getting to the Big Old Fancy Publishing Office today due to a combination of shoelace-caught-in-gears, helpful-but-insane-shoelace-caught-in-gears-incident-bystander, and a band of renegade, stepford-esque free granola bar sample giver-outers standing on the corner: "Take a bunch. They're free! THEY'RE FREE!"

Now INTERN is sitting at her usual spot on the red couch, wiping the bicycle grease off her leg with a napkin, listening to the classical music coming from Head Ed's computer speakers, and thinking about the one big nagging problem of memoirs.

The one big nagging problem of memoirs is that many would-be memoirists assume that a memoir is a story where the writer already knows what happens.

Yet in order for a memoir to be good, this cannot be true.

Consider a classical pianist playing a Beethoven sonata. The crummy pianist will merely play the sonata from memory—after all, she's been playing the sonata for years, and she *obviously* knows what's going to happen from note to note and movement to movement. And the listener's like, "So what? So you played a bunch of notes. Time for a grilled cheese sandwich."

The brilliant pianist—the really insano, genius pianist—discovers the sonata as she plays it. There are no foregone conclusions or premeditated moods. New things emerge, unusual, beautiful, canted-angle stuff. Insights and revelations come scurrying out of the music like ferrets. All who listen are Moved and Shaken. All grilled-cheese sandwiches are forgotten (except by INTERN, who is getting hungry).

You stifle your memoir in the grave when you consider it a passive account of things past rather than an active, completely new and surprising encounter with the music/your fascinating life. It's possible to know exactly what's coming, and still have a scene/character/entire book be new and unusual and awesome and completely uncanned.

In a nutshell:

Writing to tell what happened = less potential for greatness.
Writing to discover what happened (even when you technically know what happened) = more potential for greatness.

Same goes for fiction.

Someone just brought banana bread into the office, so INTERN has...urgent business to attend to. Grawr!

26 comments:

  1. Very insightful post, love the piano metaphor!

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  2. Wow - deep thoughts and grilled cheese sandwiches. This is why THE INTERN is paid the big bucks in WD40 and banana bread! Definitely something to rememeber.

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  3. Intern, this soon-to-be-out-of-work West Coast Editor just wants you to know that I love you and you blog too.

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  4. I dunno about memoir, but there's no reason to write fiction to discover what happened. In that, that way often lies self-indulgent tripe. We just need to write fiction so the -reader- feels she is discovering what happened.

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  5. Anon #2: INTERN doesn't mean writing fiction or memoir without having any idea where the plot or characters are going to go. INTERN means writing in such a way that you are open to insights (metaphorical rather than literal "happenings"). Also, this is the last day of the wildly belengthened F&M Week, and INTERN's brain is getting a little tired :)

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  6. You're good. I'll be turning my next writing class on to your blog.

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  7. I gave you a Kreativ Blogger Award. Your blog rocks.

    Check it out at my blog for more info:

    http://janmarkley.blogspot.com

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  8. Great advice. And advice I really needed today and now. So good, in fact, that I quoted you and linked to your blog today on my own blog, which oddly perhaps is about dealing with breast cancer, but your words were timely. I hope you don't mind (hey, at least I gave you the credit. Well, the you in your anonymous form!) I always enjoy your posts. Thanks!

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  9. Insightful. I like the way you discovered your blog post as you wrote it. And now I'm hungry, too!

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  10. Anon 3:36:

    Don't your characters ever surprise you? Sometimes they won't cooperate with the story arc and break character to make things easy.

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  11. Just found you and LOVELOVELOVE you.

    Did you ever read Miss Snark?

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  12. Great reminder. Hope your weekend is filled with even better things than free granola bars and banana bread.

    Gathering all this insider scoopage for a book? And are you a Twit?

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  13. The scent of banana bread pulled me across the interwebs. A writer can sit down with one's neatly drawn and numbered and properly indented ouline with the roman numerals and little leters and parentheses and write a work from start to finish, but it's often far more amusing for the writer, and the reader, to let a character--even if that "character" is you--take one down roads unplanned and show one things not initially in that nice, neat outline. If it is an adventure to write it, it often becomes also an adventure to read.

    Is there any nice, warm, melty butter for the banana bread?

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  14. You are full of wisdom. And most likely banana bread.

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  15. I'm not stalking, but I will follow you! *:)

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  16. this is the debate between literature and marketable/ saleable books?

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  17. Oooh...awesome. Thanks for the memoir/all-fiction-writing wisdom. Mmm...banana bread. I need to make some soon...

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  18. Ha! Ferrets in the piano!

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  19. Great post, thanks! The piano metaphor is very good.

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  20. You're a bright, bright girl. Reading all those manuscripts and books have clearly enlightened you and given you insight into what makes writing resonate. Keep these literary jewels coming. Thanks.

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  21. Thank you.

    I read this blog entry right before the second of two "surprising encounters." Synchronicity? Maybe. Or perhaps because this student was ready, the teacher arrived. Can I get a witness?

    http://newport2newport.livejournal.com/197707.html

    :)

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  22. YES. Yes yes yes. Great post. An extra little bonus for those who, instead of tell, discover--often, healing springs forth.

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  23. What is the fascination with memoirs? Is it the same as reality TV shows?

    I write fiction, love reading, writing, etc. I only wrote memoir because family, friends, and an angelic being channeled the message that - it was time. I don't read memoir, tried, failed, and those were published ones.

    So insight from you would be fun. Why do readers buy memoirs about the unfamous?

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  24. That was awesome.

    Just discovered your blog because people keep Tweeting about it. Loving it!

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