On the Writing of a Memoir

I'm writing A Polite Little Madness in a way that I've never written before and I find the change energizing. Besides the writing style, or "voice" (which I'll get to in a minute), I'm using an entirely different approach as well as a different discipline, for want of a better word. The reason for this is, well, there was no real conscious reason, the book created its own voice, structure, and technique. During the note-taking phase, I realized I was employing virtually nothing of my past writing tools. This was new territory and I have to tell you, I dug it. I'm still digging it.

I've contemplated writing my memoirs for some time now—years, actually—but I always put it off. The question of who the hell am I and why would anyone want to read my story, anyway? always arises. Of course it does. But my procrastination was more about timing. It wasn't that I thought my life hasn't been interesting enough, or that there's nothing for people to learn from my experiences, it was that I wasn't ready to reopen a case of Cans 'O Worms. Also, I didn't know what voice I should use for such a thing. I've kept notes forever for this book, some as long as full book chapters, not to mention the 50-odd journals I've kept since 1977, but it wasn't until last week that the voice for this book came to me. It was easy, too:

"Just write the way you talk."
"Really? Just like this? No perfectly structured sentences? No with whoms? All those contractions?"
"Yeah. Just like this."

Just like this, really. Just inner dialogue and free-form stream-of-consciousness. Mostly low-key with a pinch of patter and a tablespoon of humor thrown in for flavor. Add a little spice, a fair amount of chewy bits and go easy on the schmaltz and sugar.

I've thought it over and there's no one thing that makes this project so fun and easy (easy in the sense of the physical act of writing; a memoir of any sort does require a hefty helping of self-analysis, which is never easy). As I write about my life, I flash backward and forward, but I always come back to where I ventured off the path. Just like how I've lived my life. There's no sense of strict chronology, although a feeling of a timeline is in place, giving the whole thing support and just enough ballast to keep the whole thing from flying away.

I've also flung aside a lot of the rules that go into the writing of a novel. No strict comma splices, no problem using my personal slang, and no fibbing! By their very nature memoirs and autobiographies are suspect where truth is concerned, but I'm maintaining two guidelines:
  • If it's about someone else, it wouldn't be fair or decent of me to give away their secrets. It's not their story and exposing them would do nothing to further the understanding of where I come from. Do unto others.
  • If it's about me, then why even bother going through all this only to hold back the truth, or lie about things? I've always been an "open book" sort of person and I loathe keeping secrets because, as a victim of abuse I was forced to keep everyone's dirty little secrets as a child. This is the nature of any abuse; the perpetrator always thinks they have something on you that they want to make you feel ashamed of. If you buy into that load of crap, they terrorize you with the fear of "being found out" and they have power over you.
There are a few things I can't include, because some of the people from my past are still alive and I don't wish to burst their bubble of what my childhood was, but where those who are dead are concerned, I'm being honest. To be fair, I have to tell you that I'm not making anyone look all-good or all-bad. And every tale is told, not as an exposé, but as a means to understand why I've turned out the way I have.

I'm also writing it from beginning to end, not hopping around as I usually do. And I'm not editing, adding, or taking out anything until the first draft of each section is completed in its turn. This is probably the hardest thing for me, because I usually write all night, then edit and rewrite that the next day in sort of a slip-stitch approach. Not this time, however.

All of this being said, here is a little info about the book:

Title: A Polite Little Madness
ETA: Shooting for mid-winter or early spring, but what will be will be.
Pages: I don't care. Could be 50, could be 500. I'm not telling it what it's supposed to be, I'm just along for the ride.
Genre: Memoir, philosophy, travel, self-help, whatever.
Structure: Written in four parts...

Part I: Normal
My early childhood beginning in 1951 through to
my departure for Haight-Ashbury in 1969.

Part II: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
My travels on the road, the first phase of my music career
to my "Let it Be" breakup with my best friend and
manager in 1982, and how that threw my life into a tailspin.

Part III: Reluctant Spirit Guide
My departure into classical composition, my spirituality,
life with La Boheme through 2000,
and my 15-year creative drought.

Part IV: The Dust of Dreams & Star Dust
My life with Lynette and our family, my coming to terms
with chronic illness, ageing, and the return of my Muse.

I'll keep you updated.

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