Friday, March 1, 2013

How Not to Write a Memoir: Ten Easy Steps 

by Kathi Diamant

Dear Writers and Readers,

Perhaps you’ve tried some these methods yourself. If not, trust me. These ten steps work. And although I didn’t mention procrastination, or beating around the bush, or not figuring how what it is you really want to say, circuiting the point as long as possible, with no further clamor, here it is. My best advice on how NOT write a memoir:
  1. Take lots of writing classes, memoir classes, even master workshops on memoir. And then don’t follow up with actual writing. 
  2. Make your memoir the most important accomplishment of your life. Believe that unless you write your memoir, your life will be spent in shallows and in miseries. 
  3. Start your memoir. Finish Chapter One. Rewrite Chapter One. Rewrite it again. Keep rewriting Chapter One. Never start Chapter Two. 
  4. Be afraid, very afraid, of hurting someone’s feelings with your memoir.
  5. Refuse to show your memoir to anyone, or open it up for critique, because “it’s not ready yet.”
  6. Apply for a grant or residency to write your memoir, and when you don’t get it, use that as an excuse not to write it.
  7. Teach memoir classes. And then ignore your own advice.
  8. Reserve your memoir’s title with a domain name on the World Wide Web. Leave the site blank. Don’t do anything at all with it, except pay for it every two years.  
  9. Decide your memoir really is not that important, no one will be interested in reading it anyway. 
  10. Give it up. 

Kathi Diamant, in stores since 1895 (Berlin, 2012)
Okay. I tried, but I can’t do it. I can’t end this piece there. That last step is from the title of a short story by Franz Kafka. But that’s the one thing I can’t do. I’ve done all the others, but I can’t give up. And as Kafka said, “As long as you keep climbing there will be steps. They will magically appear under your climbing feet.”

Kathi Diamant has been working, or not working, on her memoir “108 Coincidences: Adventures with Kafka and Dora” or “Finding Dora, Getting Kafka” for at least two decades. In the meanwhile she wrote a biography, “Kafka’s Last Love”, which received the Geisel Award “Best of the Best” at the 2003 San Diego Book Awards, and is published in translation in Spain, France, Russia, China, Brazil and finally this year in Germany. An Adjunct Professor at SDSU, Kathi is currently teaching Memoir Writing classes this quarter at SDSU Osher Institute.


Susan said...

Great post Kathi. I confess that I have "accomplished" items 1 through 5, so perhaps this is one list I should actually feel good about abandoning. Thanks for the sage reminder!

Joyce Chapman said...

Hi! Loved reading your entry and just had to tell you about the journaling prompt we did this week in my ongoing Journaling for Joy Circle. We wrote about capturing our magical moments! It was so fun.... and so many old memories were shared/celebrated! I personally now have about 100 hundred new stories I HAVE to add to my memoir! And one of them is about you interviewing me on Sun-Up SD! :) Love Joyce

Zoe Ghahremani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zoe Ghahremani said...

A great article and an accurate reflection on most of us! But to a true writer, the last rule has no meaning. Our inability to put thoughts into written words is much like insomnia. Why is it that we are so good at curing one, yet neglect the other? No, there are no pills for this one, all one needs to do is to – in the words of Rumi – remove the "self" from the equation. Indeed, if he had given “self” the chance to block him, today we might have no Rumi!

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