Memoirs of Motherhood: The Momoir. Lesson One in Writing Yours
Hello, writers. It's a delight to be here at cafemom. Ready to write those memoirs about motherhood? A momoir, you say? I bet you are. So let's get to work.
Let me begin by saying that I believe that everyone has a story to tell.
Everyone. And then let me add that the foremost barrier between you and getting your story done is your desire to tell us too much too soon.
I've been teaching memoir for fourteen years, and I start every new class by saying that memoir is about territory, and that you must stake out yours. Despite the way it feels some days, with all the demands on a mother's time and space, you actually have your very own territory, and it's uniquely yours. I know it's hard to picture when you're a mom, but you do, and it is that very territory we are after when we read your work.
So let's define that territory. Let's walk its borders. It's smaller than you think, which is a good thing, considering all the other huge jobs you have every day.
When writing memoir, we define the territory as an area of expertise. You have many areas of expertise. You are someone's daughter. You are someone's mother. Maybe you are someone's wife or partner, and share the parenting role. Perhaps you also work outside the home, or, like me, at home. Maybe you are a sister, or a caregiver to an aging parent. These are your areas of expertise. And what's lovely for me about teaching at cafemom is that unlike in my on-site classes, where few people's areas of expertise overlap, here we are all moms. How fabulous. Even better is this: Despite that shared territory, each of us has unique experiences within that common place of motherhood. So each of us has our own story to tell.
Maybe you are a mother to one child; perhaps you are mom to six. Maybe your child has an illness. Perhaps your private territory involves being a single parent, or the mom to a middle-schooler, or a home-schooling mother, or an on-the-sidelines-at-every-game mom, and more. Maybe several of those overlap in your life. The complexity of your life helps define the uniqueness of your memoir.
See how this goes?
Which makes this a real good place to make the distinction between autobiography and memoir. I keep this pretty simple by defining autobiography as a book-length depiction of one's entire life, and memoir as depicting a specific aspect of that life. When students arrive in my class saying they want to write "my memoirs," I'll immediately attempt to redirect that to be "a memoir."
Which is what you'll do here. And you'll do it by starting real small.
Writers get into trouble with memoir by not understanding this essential point. If you don't start small, you may be intimidated by thinking you need to write too much, or by imagining that you must write about themes that are too big.
Instead, I want you to go small -- to select one story, one tiny moment of motherhood. Let's each choose one together. I've got a million of them, and so do you.
For instance, it's September, that classic time for going back to school. Maybe you have a new school shoes tale from this year, or from years gone by, or a story about choosing school supplies on a budget; perhaps it's a nightmare parents' night or a fall sports dilemma when you've got two kids in two different games on the same night at separate schools.
That's all for this first pass at the momoir.
One sentence, or maybe two. Or a paragraph. Nothing more is required right now. What are you going to write about? Either post it here, or write it down on your own. And don't worry if you post it here, for here is another of the glorious things about memoir -- no one else can "borrow" your story, since it's uniquely yours. Even if we all chose to write about new school shoes, each tale would be as unique as your first kiss.
So here's how we'll proceed from here: Some of you will want to show your writing to us; others will want to read along but write in private; others will simply want to follow along and watch.
And while all of these are great choices, please know that you can jump in and write, ask a question, or leave a comment at any time.
In other words: Be flexible.
I know you know how. You're moms.