The second stop on my memoir revisitation tour that primarily emphasize time and place is Haven Kimmel’s wildly popular volume, A Girl Called Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. I didn’t know this memoir, published in 2002, had already become a classic when I added it to my pile at a Friends of the Library used book sale  four or five years ago, and it sat on my shelf for a couple of years. In fact, I thought the cover looked and sounded a little dopey, and I almost donated it back unread. Fortunately word leaked out that it was a Significant Book.

Three years ago my husband and I took a road trip from Pittsburgh down to Austin and home via New Mexico. We grew tired of listening to audio books, and I began reading Zippy aloud when I wasn’t driving. Somewhat to my surprise, my husband enjoyed it, so I continued reading, finishing the book in three days (nearly losing my voice in the process. Not only did he enjoy it, he provided an insightful critique that I included in a post on The Heart and Craft of Life Writing.

Over time, I lost track of most of the elements of his critique, remembering only that the book was often funny, even hilarious, and that it consisted more of snippets than a developed story line. So I pulled it off the shelf and began rereading. The first thing I’m noticing is that reading a book aloud is quite a lot different from reading it silently. I love reading aloud, dramatizing the book as I read, as I imagine the author would have me do. I occasionally daydream of a career as a professional reader for audio book companies. But reading aloud precludes stopping to savor especially delicious lines, backtracking to double-check things, or skimming over dull or tedious spots. It’s also easy to miss subtleties.

On this read I’m more aware of the structure of her component story-chapters and how skillfully she braids two or three memories into a single strand, surely drawing on composite memory for additional color and vibrancy. I haven’t yet read far enough to rediscover the jumping around and repetition that annoyed us earlier.

The combination of Annie’s and Haven’s books inspired me to begin the morning by jotting key memories on tiny Post-It® notes I’m arranging on a large sheet of newsprint as an elaboration of the mindmap I referred to earlier.

I agree with all the experts who encourage you to “just write a draft — get your story on paper first,” but only to a certain extent. I stand firmly by my position in The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing that the writing process is as personal as your fingerprint, and you must find your own way.

I see it as being similar to cooking. I’m an intuitive cook. I read cookbooks and magazines for inspiration, then work with what I have, occupationally making a special trip to the store for special ingredients. I almost never follow a recipe precisely. I’ve read piles of books on writing, some of them about writing memoir, and now you are reading my twist on the process. You’ll find your own.

Now, back to the draft of the current story, incorporating a couple I wrote a few years ago…

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