After all the grappling I’ve been doing with structure, a spark of inspiration lit the wee hours this morning. I suspect it resulted from input from a member of the LifeWritersCritique group. I posted a piece of “raw” writing there for feedback on concept, missing content and so forth. One veteran writer replied:

… I also found myself wanting to know how that day or event shaped or changed you. Why was it significant? Why is it worthy of being included in your book? And lastly, I found myself wanting a more enlightened perspective.

These questions are obvious, and I would pose them myself if someone else had submitted that material, yet it’s truly helpful to have a fellow writer ask them of me. They take on additional power. I feel more accountable and energized. (I hope you take this as a testimonial to the power of writing groups! ) The question about significance also reminded me that I had failed to include a sinister aspect of that experience that lurked in the background, but should be highlighted.

After surveying my instant responses: I’m still grappling with structure; this is an early draft, not a fully developed scene; my intention is to focus on place and times as much as myself, and balance is a challenge … I paused. That all sounds defensive. Was I being defensive? I hope not! This project is an adventure. I’d love to achieve everything you read in that feedback. But how?

Including insight or later perspective is a key challenge. If I stay “in the moment” back then, without interjecting any insight, the story is in danger of being a bore. I didn’t have moments of terror or stunning victories. Though far from “average” or “ordinary,” I did not live a headliner life. Those early years were the sowing season for seeds that would blossom and bear fruit decades later. If I interject analytical perspective from the future, it lends an entirely different tone. I wouldn’t reject that out of hand, but it goes against my intuitive sense of the story.

In one of those four o’clock moments of lucidity kicked in by a full bladder that activated Monkey Mind, the flash occurred. As I wrote in a February post, early in this project I drafted an account of a quick visit my husband and I made to Los Alamos in August, 2000, only three months after the devastating. Cerro Grande fire My thought at the time was to use that visit as an organizing thread for stringing together flashback vingnettes attached to the various places. They could be positioned as memories that sprang to life as we drove by each location. I never quite abandoned that idea, but it in my mental deep freeze. It looks good again. It can return the proper balance of focus to place.This concept is definitely worth further explorations.

Will this be the final form? The tension mounts. Stay tuned for further developments. Meanwhile, I may not have stumbled on this idea so soon if it weren’t for the serendipity of the newly forming Life Writers Critique Group, a spin-off from the Life Writers Forum that Jerry Waxler and I cohost. If you are looking for a critique group, check us out. We welcome any memoir writer, across the range of experience, age, gender and cultural background to lend a rich diversity to the group, and there is no charge to belong.


This morning I listened to a replay of Rebecca Lawton’s December 2009 NAMW monthly member teleseminar. I’ve already listened to this program a  couple of times, but I usually listen to each one several times and hear something new each time.

This program is on time and mind management for writers. When Rebecca began talking about the Inner Critic, skyrockets of recognition exploded. Perhaps I’m blessed to be less afflicted with IC issues about my writing ability, though they are certainly not absent there. In this case my IC (known as Gretchen to long-time readers of my Heart and Craft of Life Writing blog) is shouting loudly about content:

  • “Your life was unremarkable.”
  • “Why do you think anyone would be interested?”
  • “Do you really want Those People to know they hurt your feelings?”
  • “What’s the point?”
  • “Are you sure you really want to do this? That it’s worth your time?”

On and on and on, she goes. Where will she stop? Nobody knows! Yes, dear readers, we all face Gretchen (by any other name) sooner or later. In this case she snuck up on me from behind and hid just out of sight. Here’s my reply to her:

“Gretchen, I know you are there. I’ll find you very soon and send you back to your room until I’m ready for your help. It will be in your best interests to vamoose right now and not wait to be found!”

I’ll keep you posted.