Less Me, More We: How Memoir Is Written

April 12, 2016 § 7 Comments

Julie Riddle

Brevity craft editor Julie Riddle’s newly-released memoir The Solace of Stones: Finding a Way through Wilderness, has been praised by Mary Clearman Blew as “heartbreaking, courageous, and written with rare beauty.”

Here is an excerpt of Julie’s post on the University of Nebraska Press blog discussing how she went from writing “anguished entries in a private journal” to finally writing her powerful book:

The first time I wrote about being sexually abused as a child, I was in my mid-thirties and had enrolled in an undergraduate creative-writing class. Until then I had written professionally—articles for newspapers, and press releases and feature stories for a communications office. But the only writing I had done about the abuse was fragmented and often anguished entries in a private journal I kept in my twenties, as I coped with the fallout from the childhood trauma.

By my mid-thirties I had emerged from that difficult stretch of years, and a budding desire to pursue creative writing spurred me to audit a class at a local university. I had not intended to write about the abuse, but one day the professor gave the class an assignment: write a three-paragraph fairy tale about a difficult personal experience. Then, the professor gave us another assignment: write a second fairy tale about this same experience, but change the outcome to what we wished had happened. A sort of fairy tale within a fairy tale.

The elements of a fairy tale—a distancing, third-person perspective; broad, glossy details; a superficial plot—allowed me to begin to translate my experience into story. The second version—what I wished had happened—helped absorb my first narrative’s emotional punch and provided a sense of control: I could enter into my story and direct the action rather than remain a helpless, powerless pawn. I could not have written either assignment if the professor hadn’t first said that she wouldn’t share them with the group.

You can read more on how Julie’s memoir went from private to public here at the Nebraska Press Blog.

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