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.

Writing Fueled by Silence: Julie Riddle

November 20, 2013 § 6 Comments

Julie-Riddle-Photo-262x300Brevity Craft Editor Julie Riddle is interviewed on the Georgia Review blog about the influence of growing up in a remote, wild landscape, about exploring childhood trauma on the page, and about revision. Here is an excerpt but we highly recommend the full interview here:

Silence fueled the writing I began doing in graduate school, at age thirty-six: I had an extensive internal storehouse of information, memories, and sensations to draw from and explore. But the pervasive silence from my childhood also made writing about the past uncomfortable at best and frightening at worst. I was—and am—acutely aware that I was breaking unspoken family rules and community codes. And there’s a thick veil of silence around sexual abuse. I did not talk about it, except to my therapist when I began counseling in my early twenties, and in occasional generalities with my husband. Up until graduate school I had never written about it, beyond trying to cope with the trauma in my journal writing.

I like what author and investigative journalist Amy Goodman said: “Go to where the silence is and say something.” In my writing, I try to peel back the layers of silence and draw out what lies beneath. Not to sensationalize or expose, but to explore, to find connections, to discover meaning, and to better understand.

Speaking into those silent places through writing about them can be empowering, but it also requires courage, and it’s risky. But I find that when I am vulnerable on the page, it often opens lines of communication—whether it’s with my parents, or with strangers attending a reading—and creates a space for other people to break their own silences.

Editorial Intervention: Thoughts from Craft Editor Julie Riddle

May 30, 2012 § 3 Comments

The good folks at the PressGang blog interviewed Brevity craft editor Julie Riddle recently, on finding work, accepting work, rejecting work, and working with the work to make it better.  Here are some of Julie’s guiding philosophies:

Weak submissions are numerous and are easy to identify (too didactic or simplistic; predictable or conventional; sweeping generalizations; weak structure or style; lack of voice). Strong submissions – pieces that are tight and cohesive, that have something new to say or that arrive at clarity/understanding in new ways, with language that is fresh and surprising – are rare and stand out.

It’s the work in the middle that can be challenging to make decisions about. Especially when there’s been a dearth of strong submissions: the mediocre stuff starts to look pretty good and I begin talking myself into thinking they’re better than perhaps they really are.

Deciding on submissions is largely done through gut instinct. I’m still learning to trust my instincts. I allow plenty of time to consider pieces – I read submissions several times over a period of days. Clarity often comes in the in-between time.

And ideas on how to approach the editing process:

  • Locate the strongest opening and closing paragraphs. They aren’t always the first and last paragraphs of the piece. Sometimes the essay begins in the second or third paragraph and the first sentences were the author clearing her throat. Sometimes an essay ends with the second-to-last paragraph and the final paragraph was the author wrapping up meaning with a pretty bow.
  • Eliminate redundancy. Sometimes writers don’t trust that the reader will “get” what they mean and will make their point twice, implicitly and explicitly.
  • Untangle awkward sentences. Move a paragraph or sentence elsewhere in the piece to tighten/clarify the section it had been in and support/enhance the section it joined.

More here.

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