A recent study of Baby Boomers revealed that the single thing they most want to do in retirement is write a book. The single biggest topic? Themselves.
So how do we differentiate our story from those tales of our peers?
In writing what we know are we merely voicing the same concerns?
I would argue that we are not, since everyone has a story, and that each of those stories is unique. To avoid sounding like everyone else, perhaps the key is to also avoid grand sweeping statements about our generation and instead look to the small moments of life to illuminate those grand themes.
If you avoid making yourself the story, and instead think of yourself of the illustration of a universal theme, you'll succeed.
I'd invite some discussion of this here.
"...the single thing they most want to do in retirement is write a book." Really?! Gah- I thought I was so unique. lol
I'm hoping that one way to stand out is by actually doing it. Writing a book is hard work. Finishing it, going back and rewriting it, is no fun. Few people see it through to the end.
But I realize that's not what you're talking about here. My memoir is humorous and slightly absurd. I know I can be funny- I wrote a humorous column for seven years. I'm hoping that will make my story stand out. I have no illusions, I know it's long shot. But I'm writing it anyway.
And it's attitudes like your that keep those good books coming along onto our booshelves.Humor is a gorgeous thing to have in your toolbox, as is the discipline of having been a columnist for 7 years.
But you are right on -- it's not the writing, it's the rewriting that is the key. I tell my students this, and they always look at me with that gauzy disbelief that suggests they think that they will never need to rewrite a thing. They're wrong. Even when I admit that it was version 45 that made it onto All Things Considered as an essay, or the third total rewrite that got the nod from my last book editor, I still get what I now call, "the look."
You, however, will be fine: You know that the rewrite rules. You've got the hard part down.
*chuckle* I rewrote my columns 5 or 6 times. I rewrote my above post. If rewriting is key then I'm golden. lol
Ha ha ha ha ha.
I agree that everyone has a story to tell, and each story is unique. But from a publishing business point of view, the story has to answer the most important question of all; So what? To use myself as an example, I have Multiple Sclerosis. That is unique within my family, my friends, my community. But it's not as unique as I might at first imagine.
There are plenty of books out there about overcoming MS with a good attitude or whatever. What am I telling that is unique? Perhaps my husband gets diagnosed as well, and then my two children - that's unique. Perhaps I go to court over my ability to work and win - that's unique. Maybe its my writing style; maybe I'm the funniest author of all time - that may be unique. The point is, lots of people have overcome lots of things. So, you have to make yours answer the question in an intriguing way.
Just a few of my thoughts. ~Karen
I appreciate this question very much. My memoir has unique themes--being a military child, constant moving, impact on adult relationships, one in particular. the issue is a marital choice and the tragic consequences...Can't seem to find a slot for this book. It's done, been edited, re-edited, critiqued....Any insight is appreciated.
I totally agree. As a widely published essayist who teaches workshops in writing memoirs, I am no longer surprised at the vast number of people want to write their "story," and how many have dreams of becoming the next Anne Lamott or Mitch Albom, etc.
I had those dreams, too, until I saw how quickly the competition is growing, and how many fine Boomer writers out there have similar stories to share. It's all been done before, pretty much. There's nothing that can truly shock or awe us anymore, now that the Internet give access to so much. It's downright overwhelming for readers and writers.
As I tell my students (and myself),the key to telling a memoir or essay that resonates -- and sells -- is to have an incredible voice, a voice unlike any other. Thousands of blogger mommies think their stories of raising children are so very special, but unless they have a voice like Anne Lamott's, for instance, they aren't offering much of anything new.
My story is about raising a child diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. What I hope will make it unique is the way I coped with my difficult homelife. It's absurd and a little embarrassing. I became obsessed with American Idol winner Taylor Hicks (the gray haired guy). Not in a stalkerish way, don't misunderstand. But his story of beating the odds was so uplifting that I followed his career daily, became involved with his fanbase, went to concerts and wound up interviewing him several times.
I think it's funny. There are also some tidbits about the TRULY obsessed American Idol fans I encountered who will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up- women who think their Idol is sending them messages thru his songs, etc...
I'm curious to know if you think that's different enough? I would think American Idol fans would interested. I have SOME writing chops having written a humorous column for seven years but I've never written anything book-length before.
I'm planning on turning my memoir into a novel and then adding things I wish I'd done to the plot. Then when the interviewer asks which parts are from my real life, I can give them an enigmatic smile and say nothing.
I'm working on a memoir about raising the two kids my husband and I adopted internationally. I think it's all about voice, first, and then theme or frame you give to it. The story behind Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions was not unique (single mother, former addict, struggles to raise baby with help of friends). However, her voice is so distinctive. As I work on my own story, I'm trying to write the book about raising older adoptees or raising international adoptees that I still, after 17 years, have never seen on any bookshelf. The book I wish I had had when I started this journey.
By the way, did you know Lamott has just put out another baby journal book about her son, Sam, becoming a father? Can't think of the name right now.
Twenty-five years ago, at the prompting of a therapist, I wrote my memoir. At the time I was still mired in the pain of the abuse I received as a child. Instead of an uplifting and inspiring memoir, it was raw pain and not skillfully executed. I sent it out to agents and some authors who wrote about similar themes. I received many nice letters from the likes of people like Lucien Goldberg who told me my story was compelling, but I could benefit from some writing lessons - they told me in sweet, kind, polite terms.
Recently it was suggested that I write my memoir again. I started writing, joined a few critique groups, and increased my skills. I was surprised that, even though I didn't initially look at the original manuscript, the story was basically the same, and often told in the same words. There was one difference though - I had been healed. I had sorted out my past and it no longer pulled me down to the depths of despair. Instead of writing a dump story, my focus changed. Now I want to write a healing journey to inspire others, to let them know that, no matter how tough their lives are, healing is possible.
By focusing on my goal of encouraging and helping others, the story changed dramatically. I'm still honing techniques, still learning to show, not tell, still editing and figuring out how to present the ending, but really enjoying the process. It has already touched the lives of many on Critique Circle, and my pastor's wife has been encouraging me to tell even more than I have. It's quite an adventure.
When the focus changed another thing happened - surprising connections emerged. Sometimes I sit back and say "Wow, never saw that before."
Have a blessed day.
I'm always up for a good, new memoir, and always looking for a new one to read. I'm a children's author, and I've been working on my memoir (not for kids) for twenty years. Too bad it's taken so long, but it's been a rewarding process. I think looking deeply into your life to find themes is one of the most difficult and challenging things you can do. So write on. Pamela Jane