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.