Writing a Memoir — A Memorable Experience

To mark the 10th anniversary of Rosie Sorenson’s contributions to the Foolish Times, we thought we’d spend some time talking with her about one of her latest writing successes. Her essay entitled: “Doing it Wrong Till You Get it Right” was chosen for inclusion in the new book, The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writer’s Journey, edited by two nationally recognized experts on memoir, Brooke Warner and Dr. Linda Joy Myers.

FT: How did you come to write this piece?
RS: I wanted to capture the ups and downs and the unpredictability of writing something as difficult as memoir. I almost didn’t tackle this piece because it seemed overwhelming, and besides, I didn’t feel confident about the draft of the memoir I’d just finished. Who was I to talk about a memoir that was not fully completed, let alone published?

FT: But you stuck with it and wrote the essay anyway.
RS: Yes. Over the past 20 years of writing, I’ve found that if I can just craft the right first sentence, I know I’ll be able to finish the rest of the piece. For this essay, I was taking a nap when the opening lines delivered themselves to me: “Writing a memoir is like detasseling corn. You have to be strong and determined to work in a cornfield all day when the plants wave high above your head, and the sun burns your back and leaves a scar long after the blisters recede, and the stalks scrape your arms and legs until they bleed.”
 
After that, it took about four weeks to guide it into something publishable. It takes a lot of perseverance and plain old cussedness to write and re-write and re-write and re-write. That’s where the gold is—in the re-writing.

FT: Were you surprised when it was chosen?

RS: Yes and no. I liked it, and my writing tribe thought it was good, but publication is a crap shoot. At the very worst, I figured if it didn’t get chosen for this anthology I could re-purpose it for a writing magazine.

For anyone contemplating writing a memoir, The Magic of Memoir is an excellent companion to the many useful how-to books on the market. It’s important to hear other writers talk about their struggles and how they overcame them. Also included in the book are interviews with bestselling memoirists: Mary Karr, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dani Shapiro, Margo Jefferson, Jessica Valenti, Azar Nafisi and others.

FT: What’s your advice for would-be memoirists?

RS: Keep in mind that while it may look easy, it’s not. You need to read dozens of memoirs to get a feel for structure, theme and story arc. If you’re a beginning writer, put your butt in the chair and write and write and write. After you’ve found your writing groove, find a teacher and other writers who understand how to give constructive feedback. 

And, never, ever give up!  Writing is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done —way more fun than my previous careers in psychotherapy and health care administration.

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