Finally, a use for rambling: memoir

December 27, 2010

I’ve been writing my first book for nearly two years. It has taken me this long to realize something that’s crucial to the success of my memoir: It’s okay to let myself ramble.

More than okay. To write a good memoir, I have to force myself to ramble.

I’m best at writing in a newsy style, eliminating all words and information that aren’t absolutely necessary, sticking to the facts of what happened during one frozen moment in time.

But memoir is so much more that. Memoir is that frozen moment, plus thoughts and reflections on that moment, plus reminders of the past and guesses about the future — all woven together to give the moment meaning.

I used to think that if I included lots of ideas on the fringes of that moment, I was rambling. And no doubt, some writers do ramble. Some writers make the mistake of going on and on about topics that could help turn the frozen moment into something bigger than itself, but they fail to make it relate, fail to close the gap that creates meaning and insight.

But I come from the other side of the spectrum, the side that holds only the facts, and I have to continuously remind myself that it’s good to ramble. Because while adding my thoughts and fears and dreams and connecting them to what’s happening right now feels like rambling, it’s actually something much better: the art of memoir. Rambling lets the reader into my head. It helps her understand how I’m feeling, helps place her in the scene with me. It also helps unlock that oh-so-elusive literary voice.

So in my day job as a journalist, I write straight and tight. But when I come home at night and sit at my desk to create from within, I do my best to let that rambling voice inside of me spill words into my manuscript, freely, a stream of consciousness. Let yourself ramble, I remind myself. Let yourself ramble.

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    9 Replies to “Finally, a use for rambling: memoir”

    • Carrie says:

      I know for me as a writer I sometime feel like I suffer from multi-personality disorder. I write one way for my blog, another way for a personal essay or poem, and yet another way for a fantasy or sci fi story. Whew! 🙂

    • Andrea James says:

      Isn’t it amazing how you are learning that “truth” and “reality” is nebulous?

      For instance, one moment can be described simply in the adjectives, nouns and verbs of that moment. But, all the intangibles fill out the back story. A million thoughts can run through your head in an instant. And, that’s all truth, too.

      Thanks for sharing this and taking us on your journey.

    • I can really relate to this one! I am a business writer by day, and I’ve been so trained to write in a particular style that it has taken me some time to find my memoir voice. While I’ve written so much over the years, I have less experience writing dialogue, literal or internal. It’s a challenge to allow myself the words and space to explore, but it’s fun!

    • Andi says:

      I LOVE how you start off by saying “my FIRST book”…now that is inspiring!

    • Kim Kircher says:

      I so agree. In writing my own memoir, I found a deeper, quieter voice, and uncovered many truths about my experience. Currently, I write two blogs–one for my job as a ski patroller and another, more personal, one that highlights the themes in my memoir. Even though I often cover the same ground–life and adventure in the mountains–the two blogs employ entirely different voices. I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but that’s the nature of being a writing professional.

    • Not rambling, but sharing certain depth an perspective that will move your readers.

      – Jeff Emmerson (Author of the gripping Memoir entitled The Road to Myself)

    • Ian Robinson says:

      The post is really helpful because I am constantly struggling with re-examining the first chapters of my book. I get so caught up in eliminating all but the most essential stuff. This causes me to really lose ground. Where I thought I’d sit down and write a lot, I get stumped into reworking 2 paragraphs for hours and at the end I’ve got nothing. Thanks a lot for the post.

    • Totally understand this Alexis! I find myself using style of writing in my freelance (factual) writing, one style of writing on my travel blog and a completely different style of writing when it comes to short stories I hope to one day put together as part of a memoir. Funnily enough it’s the last one I enjoy doing the most; putting some music on and just….letting it all go on paper (well, on my laptop but still!)

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