Writing Prompt: Know Where You Are Going in Your Memoir

by Matilda Butler on June 23, 2015

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #217 – Memoir Writing – Matilda Butler

Do You Know Where You Are Going with Your Writing?

memoir writing prompt-HawaiiDuring my recent writing retreat in Hawaii, I had the pleasure of walking several miles each day, usually near to or under coconut trees. If you haven’t spent much time in Hawaii, you probably have a romantic image of tall coconut palms gently swaying in the tropical breeze.

True confession — that’s my image too. And it is the reality. But I know there is more to the story than this. When left alone, these majestic palms produce coconuts that fall when ripe. That’s as it should be. I’ve even seen new coconut palms starting to grow from coconuts that have taken root next to the water. The problem is that if you are walking under the tree when the coconut falls, you could be knocked out (or worse). Just think about it for a moment. A typical coconut, filled with that delicious coconut water that you have probably bought to drink, weighs around four pounds. It hangs from a palm tree that may be about 100 feet tall. And in the process of falling, the coconut may reach 50 mph.

Now think about strong trade winds that can whip up the air and move on to considering tropical storms that blow in. Coconuts not only drop–they fly through the air and become projectiles that can do damage to people and to property.

Ouch.

Now the odds that you are under a palm when one lands may not be all that great. At the same time, if you are a property owner, you don’t want anyone to get hit when one of those typical breezes gets a little too vigorous. Therefore, you want to take down the coconuts before they can hurt someone.

Watch This Video Taken from My Lanai

If reaching for coconuts in the palm tree, you want to focus on where you are going. You need to have the end in sight.

If writing a memoir, you want to focus on where you are going. It is what keeps you on the right path.

In the video below, you’ll see how a worker gathers his gear and starts toward the coconuts and branches that need to be trimmed. Then he heads up. It isn’t always fast progress. He has to readjust his gear after a couple of steps. Similarly, when we write, we can’t get the whole story to come out in one smooth action. We adjust. But, we must know where we are going or we just may never get there.

The best way to sight the end? Try writing a synopsis of your memoir. Know what you are encompassing. Once you have the entire memoir condensed to a paragraph (or two at the most), you’ll have you sights set.

Video #1

Now once you reach your goal, whether it is the coconuts hanging high in the air or the conclusion of your memoir, you need to be prepared to cut away what doesn’t belong. This type of editing is often the hardest. But if you think writers have a difficult time, just look (at Video #2) at all the energy it takes to edit the coconuts and branches that are in the way.

Video #2

memoir writing tipTakeaway: Set your mind on your goal. Layout the individual steps it will take you to get there. This helps you from meandering through your past. And once you “get there” be prepared to edit, even when you are in love with all of your words. It hurts to let them go…to leave them in a tumbled mess on the floor of your study.

But fear not. You may find that some of what you have cut can be used in a blog or in an article that you write or as a story to include in a presentation.

memoir writinglBy the way, I ran downstairs to pick up some of the just-dropped coconuts. Couldn’t let them be hauled off and thrown away. My mother’s Depression-era mantra of “Save. Save. Save.” whispers in the air around me. It was lots of fun to open the young coconuts. There wasn’t much meat inside this one. But I punctured the end of several and drained the coconut water into a measuring cup. Then I strained out the miscellaneous “stuff” that came from opening the whole with a screwdriver. I’ve been using this in cooking stirfrys and curries. Yum.

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