Post #14 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
Each time I post a guest blog and writing prompt from a memoirist I feel as though I’m sharing a special gift with our readers. When the blog first appears in my email inbox, I hold my breath and pray it will be good enough to post, and every time I’m blown away. I suspect part of the pleasure I derive from these guest posts is in having the opportunity to get inside the head (and often the heart) of another memoir writer.
As memoir writers and readers, there’s a lot for us to gain both from Leslie Gilbert-Lurie’s new memoir Bending Toward the Sun and today’s blog post. She reminds us to remain devoted to our passion and never give up…no matter what others say. I suspect that’s some of what Leslie’s mother and Holocaust survivor, Rita Lurie, passed along to her daughter and granddaughter.
Once you read Leslie’s guest blog below, please take some time to write a Comment. Better still, take advantage of your opportunity to question a published author and ask Leslie a question…or two. Matilda and I will pose the question in your behalf when we interview Leslie on Saturday, October 3rd (details below).
At our request, Leslie has included a writing prompt. This one is designed to get you writing, even when you don’t know what to write. We recommend you try her method, and leave a Comment telling us how it worked for you. Finally, please join us for the interview with Leslie on October 3rd. You can read more about Leslie’s new memoir, Bending Toward the Sun, here.
Date/Time: Saturday, October 3, 2009/2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. Pacific)
Phone Number: 712-432-0600 (access code: 998458#)
The Counsel of Others
By Leslie Gilbert-Lurie
What do writers, teachers, and new parents all have in common? Nearly everyone else tries to give them advice. What ability do strong writers, successful teachers, and effective new parents all share? They all can listen to other’s comments with equanimity, utilizing those that are helpful, and discarding the remainder. I learned first hand from writing my just published memoir, Bending Toward the Sun, not to be daunted by the doubters, the setbacks, and the critical comments.
A decade or so ago, when I decided to write this memoir about my mother’s Holocaust experience, and how it impacted me and my daughter, the skeptics showed themselves in full force. “Does the world really need another Holocaust story?” I was asked. “Maybe you should focus on the Polish farmers who took in your mother’s family. Now that would be interesting.” Some suggested that since my career had been in television, I would be better suited to writing a screenplay. I was not sure how the comedy scripts I had co-written while I was an executive at NBC translated to my writing the next Schindler’s List, but I listened. Actually, I did more than listen. I took the doubters to heart. Each time I heard a negative opinion, I felt discouraged, I slowed down my writing. But then I reminded myself that I had a strong, unique story that I was passionate about telling. With this in mind, I would coax myself back to the computer.
I was busy, during these years, so distractions were easy to find. I was the President of the Los Angeles County Board of Education and a member of several other boards. I was also raising a son and daughter, and a stepson as well. So I tended to write in fits and starts. And I continued to ask a lot of people their opinions. I began to find that in addition to the discouraging ones, a lot of great suggestions also came my way. I sought the advice of many friends, avid readers, and mentors.
After eight years or so, I willed my manuscript to a point where I felt it was ready to show to literary agents. I quickly found that many did not want to represent an unknown writer with a Holocaust memoir. They all turned me down, most without having read the book. I decided I needed to head to New York, where hundreds of book agents reside. Through a friend, I actually met the perfect agent. He took a chance on me because he loved our story. Suddenly, none of the other rejections mattered.
I spent the next six months incorporating my new agent’s suggestions. Then my manuscript was ready for a publisher. It took months longer to find a publisher who not only liked our manuscript but wanted to take a risk on a book that was likely to build slowly rather than be an immediate hit. After ten years of hard work and determination, my book was sold to HarperCollins. Once again, none of the other rejections mattered.
I began with a story that I was passionate about. I worked hard and took advantage of the help and ideas of many friends, some of whom loved the draft that I showed them and some who didn’t. At the end of it all, there was an agent, a publisher, a book, and a slew of good reviews. We are off and running!
Leslie’s Writing Prompt
I firmly believe that at least with respect to memoirs, the best angles to explore are ones about which the writer is passionate. Sometime the way to figure out what one is passionate about is to simply begin putting words on paper. This prompt is simple. It comes from my son’s high school English instructor. It begins with the first few lines of a Langston Hughes poem, “Theme for English B”:
“The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you–
Then, it will be true.”
I urge you to read the rest of the poem, which you can find here, but did not want to violate any copyright law by reprinting more here. After following this prompt and writing your page, use the “you” that comes out of it to begin structuring an essay or manuscript.