The words from a homily echoed in my head. Ritualize where you are now. The moment I stepped out of that dress, I felt different. I was carrying a new life—had been all along—but now I could finally breathe. I glanced in the mirror and saw myself as a mother-to-be. I shoved the dress in the bag and tossed it in the car.
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The dress was easy to remove, but not the grief. Shifting my focus to new life, I decided to take one small step. The following week, on my final day of teaching elementary school, I drove to my childhood home only two blocks away. I pulled the navy maternity dress from the white plastic bag. My mother was at work. I call it my past-present-future dress. The dress is making an encore appearance in at a different reunion tonight. My husband tells me to hurry. We exit the elevator and enter a full dining room.
The celebration begins. Arms reach across the table to shake my hand. A shoulder nudges close. I feel a tap on my back. Legs move toward me. Fingers clasp. Another arm extends around my waist. Then hugs, so many embraces and tears. I am aware of my middle-ness.
I am a quiet middle child, in the middle of a loud story. I am in the middle of history, in the middle of generations, in the middle of Danish fishermen and American flyers. Linda taught third grade, led retreats and worked in parish ministry. I hope you enjoy Writing Lessons. Featuring well-published writers of our favorite genre, each installment takes on one short topic addressing how to write memoir.
Love the author featured above? Did you learn something in the how-to? And you can. I am giving away one copy, and all you have to do to win is leave a comment below about something you learned from the writing lesson or the excerpt. I found this extremely helpful. I appreciate the tips on how memoirists should make sure the last paragraph of one piece ties in with the first paragraph of the next and I think using dresses as a uniting metaphor was brilliant. Dear Amy, I appreciate your kind words.
I had a lot of fun using dresses as a thread through the essays. I would love to read your own slices of life columns. Marion has helped all of us go small. I love this concept! I have been so stuck in my writing, feeling overwhelmed. I had contemplated this approach but was so unsure…. Wish me luck! Thank you for your lessons! I enjoy them so much! Susan, This is great news. I found all the writing lessons to be so helpful in my own work and I am honored that sharing my experience can help nudge you today. It is so good to give back.
My editor, Robyn Ringler shared these tips from her own writing teacher so we are helping each other to gain movement. Your content is so very helpful, Marion. About nine months ago, I read your book, and then I was on one of your calls.
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What I learned helped me focus, organize, and finish my manuscript for my first book, a memoir about sobriety. I sent it to my publisher last week. Congratulations on completing your story. Excellent lesson and piece by Ms. I will have that posted on my Writing Wall. Thank you for your comments. I want this book!
Not only for its content, but because it illustrates the principles Marion puts forth. Careen, I hope you continue to find help from the writing lessons and the wisdom from Marion. I surely did. This was wonderful post! The book would be something I could relate to because my age 61 and the metaphor of dresses.
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This is a great and doable way to structure a book as a series of essays. It seems much more doable for me. I am comfortable writing blog posts and magazine articles, but the thought of a long book is overwhelming sometimes. Ginger, I am with you on the thoughts of a long book.
It seemed too much for me. I was so happy to find that a series of essays was a reachable goal and Marion gave good feedback when I shared that I was attempting to do just that — she reminded me that I still needed an overall arc in order to print them together as a book. I hope you continue. Breaking up the writing into smaller, more manageable pieces seems to tame the bigger writing project, sticking to the algorithm in each section.
I loved seeing the process of finding the structure of the book, which is my biggest challenge. Dear Beth, Smaller pieces worked so well for this collection. And yes, with each essay I made sure to follow the writing math. I kept asking myself what is this about? Thank you for your thoughts. Such good advice. I flipped through my closet in my mind — many ideas there for essays, including the ban on trousers for women in my high school in the sixties, and the godawful bloomers for gym class.
Thank you! Oh Elizabeth, Our minds must run similar. And oh yes, a mini dress from my teaching days, when women were not allowed to wear pants, but COULD wear a mini dress three inches above the knees. Keep flipping through your closet in your mind. Clothing is so rich to draw out the memoir essays. Thank you for your post. I continue to look for a way to write my memoirs. Essays might be a good fit for me. I love how Linda used an unlikely subject…. We can all relate to that. Dear Ruth, I do hope that you will continue to write memoir. I found that essays were a perfect length. Mine ranged from about to words in the book.
Some had several parts but each one could be read alone which helped me continue. I am happy whenever someone considers the book, the proceeds are going to assist a local thrift store, called ReStyle, from Unity House in Troy. When we have some book signings we are also inviting readers to donate a gently used dress. So my unlikely thread of dresses is really being put to good use.
A wonderful way to help others. Rather, we find ourselves writing one essay, then another, then another. I like how that sentence came out— we find ourselves writing —as if writing helps us find ourselves, which of course it does. After a while, the essays accumulate. Maybe enough for a collection, but a book? Do all the essays talk to each other in interesting ways?
Is there a center point, a hub, into which all the spokes fit? If I had to write the cover copy for this book, what central elements would I highlight? In a well-shaped book of essays, the whole is more than the sum of its combined parts. Each essay should be sturdy enough to stand alone, like a vigorous tree. But when all the trees stand together, they should form not merely a stand of trees but rather a richly organic forest. In fact, placing too-similar works in the same book can weaken the design of the whole.
What dazzles in an individual, stand-alone piece can become a problem when set among other pieces that dazzle in the same way. If, for instance, you have a gift for lyric intensity, and every essay achieves this same level of intensity, the reader may become exhausted, wishing for a little breathing space. If you are skilled with the segmented form, and your book contains fifteen segmented essays, consider how many segment breaks you are requiring the reader to absorb over the expanse of the whole book, not just in one particular essay.
You may not realize how similar some of your essays are, but the attentive reader will notice. This is one of the most essential decisions you will make, a decision you cannot avoid. And that shape, in turn, will affect the reader. For some writers, the ordering process is intuitive. You may be guided by unconscious principles that are difficult to articulate but that nevertheless work: a sense of musical integrity, for instance, or an inherent gift for dramatic arc. It just feels right.
Sometimes when you host a dinner party, everything works out just fine. The guests seat themselves around the table in the perfect arrangement, everyone gets along, each guest has her moment in the light, and the happy chatter that ensues is a kind of music. At other dinner parties…well, we all know about those. Some writers imagine a physical shape or structure for their book a triptych, for example, or a braid, an accordion, a digressive spiral and then order the essays to enhance that shape.
Sometimes the order of essays is dictated by plot elements. If separate essays refer to the same event, especially a suspenseful event, this may determine the order. In The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings , I mentioned a family medical crisis in one essay and revealed its outcome in another. In a book-length memoir or other nonfiction text, most readers start at the first page and read through to the end of the book. Not so with a book of individual essays. Your reader might pick up the book at any point.
Then some reader decides to start in the middle of the book, say, or read the last essay first because he happens to be drawn to its title. My advice?
How to cite an essay from a book that includes a collection of essays using the MLA style - Quora
Order the essays for your ideal reader, and hope for the best. Since essays must stand alone as well as support the whole book, you may need to supply the same background details several times. This is particularly true of memoir-based texts, or personal essays in which certain autobiographical facts are essential. Frankly, the writung industry has been depreciated by too many 2nd-rate writers. Here are some tips! This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
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