Earlier this week, I was able to speak to a group of students about writing. Since being out of the classroom for a few years now, I’ve struggled at times as each school year would approach, longing to be able to see the bright faces of learners each day. In my career I was lucky enough to be able to teach in an environment that was creative and not altogether traditional.
But this classroom was unlike any I’ve ever experienced. It’s the first of its kind in my area, and an exciting place for alternative learning. Much like a homeschool environment, it’s based on the idea that the one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear offered a more creative experience for learning than we are able to offer the masses in our traditional schools these days. If you’re curious about what modern one-room schools look like, check out what Acton Schools may be in your area. With the anxiety do many of our kids and adolescents are facing these days, this education alternative is available now and may be the answer to what someone you love may be experiencing because of their stressful learning environment.
But let’s talk about my return to the non-traditional classroom. There I was, all ready to teach. The subject: writing. But not just any writing, it was all about memoir. And keep in mind, we’re in a shared space with kids ranging in age from six to thirteen. My lesson plan was going to have to be not just creative, but entirely fluid.
And that made me think about writing in general, as well as improving the art of sharing our story. How often do we think about our ideal reader? The avatar we write to and for? I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s not. I think you should know your target audience, but I also believe that as we convey our stories, we have to keep in mind that there are perspectives from any age, gender, background and life stage that must be considered.
Does that sound daunting? Maybe.
But here’s the thing. It isn’t as much about you as it is about them.
But it's memoir. I know. Stick with me.
What was my lesson plan?
It was all about listening to the stories they wanted to tell. Did I share mine? Sure. But the meager tools I presented on a whiteboard were nothing more than a way for them to think about what they had to offer. Their story. A memoir about their lives, or more specifically, a part of it.
I think that may be a misconception many people have when thinking about memoir. An autobiography is a complete story of someone’s life and is usually reserved for the elite or ultra famous. But a memoir is simply a story in a person’s that has taught them something. Changed them. And we love reading about that.
Can you cater to everyone? Maybe. Maybe not. But I do think that somehow we have to be mindful of the fact that as we do share a story-any story, the serendipitous audience may be six or they may be sixty, so the underlying theme-the human connection has to be authentic.
A few things to keep in mind if you’re writing memoir.
1. Have an argument. (Are you arguing that the world can become a better place through kindness by telling your story? This is not age or gender exclusive. Any audience can relate.)
2. Have a theme. (This is the major difference between memoir and biography. This is not a life’s story, but a theme lived out through certain events in a life.)
3. State how the world is different through proof of your argument. (The stories you’ve included thus far through a common theme culminate in an obvious change in the main character. Did you leave your corporate job and pursue a life on the road as a musician? Great. That’s how the world is different. Because you are. And we all love a good coming of age story, no matter how old our protagonist is.)
For more specifics on this process, I recommend by starting with Marion Roach Smith. Follow her teachings and you can’t go wrong. She’s where I’ve learned many of these concepts, and has broken down the art of writing memoir better than anyone else I’ve found.
Happy storytelling, friends. Your story matters, but how you convey it makes all the difference in the world!