Post #141 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
Memoir Writers Understand Focus
In yesterday’s post, I discussed the concept of focus. Focus is what we all do in the writing process. As memoir writers, we know we have a world of experiences but only a small piece of them are relevant to a particular memoir. Thus the need for focus. Today I want to return to the topic to give you a new perspective on it.
Let me begin with an example drawn from my recent time in Dana Point, California. The condo where we are staying has a eucalyptus growing just beyond the small deck of our second-floor unit. Since I lived in California for 40 years before moving to Oregon, I know the eucalyptus quite well. The tree, known for rapid growth, was brought from Australia to have a plentiful source of timber. The obvious problem with the idea was ignored initially. Of course, once there were many eucalyptus groves, someone (probably multiple someones) noticed that a tree that grew quickly had a weak structure and couldn’t be used for building.
But many were planted around the state. When I worked at Stanford University, I often biked beneath these giant trees, their pods making crunching and popping noises beneath my tires. In Gilroy, where I lived for the last 13 years of my California time, we had 25 red iron bark eucaluyptus (sideroxylon) along the north end of the property. Eventually we added 25 more on the south end of the property.
Obviously, I was thrilled to once again find myself able to commune with one of these impressive trees. There are many different varieties, each with distinctive bark features. Sometimes the bark looks like the leaves of a 100 page book and the wind seems to be flipping through the pages while it reads them. The red iron bark on the trees in Gilroy was thick and dark. And the bark on the tree outside my condo was typical of many where pieces, in no apparent pattern, peeled away to reveal the next lighter layer.
As I sat at the small, round, wooden kitchen table each day, I couldn’t taken my eyes off the face in the tree trunk. The profile of an older woman jumped out at me even though I was looking across the living room, through the glass sliding door, and beyond the deck to the tree. But there she was. Day after day. That was my focus. I didn’t look at the rest of the tree. I didn’t notice the leaves. I just saw the woman. The sunlight at breakfast time, lunch, and then dinner meant she had a slightly different look. In particular, the shadow on her eye changed.
And on the days when it rained, days I thought I had left behind in Oregon, her brunette hair turned auburn as if she had just returned from the hair dressers with a new henna look. By the next day, she would repent and return to her gray-brown hair.
Meal after meal, she was my focus. She drew me into her story. Look for the focus in your memoir writing and draw your readers in with your detail.
Memoir Writing Prompts:
1. Look at the room where you are sitting. Choose just one detail, preferably something that you don’t usually notice. Then write for five minutes on just this one detail or element.
2. In this more difficult memoir writing prompt, think of one emotional state you’ve been in recently. This might be the emotion of anger, happiness, sadness, etc. While it is fairly easy to focus on a physical detail, it requires you to dig deeper when you write about an emotion. After you have recalled a recent time when you felt a strong emotion, write for five minutes about the emotion. How was it displayed? What was the feeling like inside? Did another person interact with you during this time? The the emotions of the other person fuel your own feelings or serve to turn them around? Write for ten minutes focusing just on the detail of the emotion.***
***Acknowledging and writing about our emotions is difficult for many memoir writers. It is easier to skate along on the surface. Really, who wants to get into the chilly waters beneath the smooth surface.
When Kendra and I have worked with memoir writing students, they tell us how amazed they are to finally see and understand their emotions after we taught them from our chapter on emotions in our forthcoming book, Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep.
Writing Alchemy is an entirely new system for writing that we’ve tested over the past several years in classes, workshops, and seminars.
Writing Alchemy is now available with a special pre-publication price. Click here for more information. [Pre-publication price is only available until May 1. Be sure to reserve your copy. We have almost sold out of our initial print run.]