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Memoirs of Motherhood: The Momoir. Lesson One in Writing Yours

Posted by on Sep. 5, 2011 at 11:05 AM
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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.

            Tell us.

            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.

by on Sep. 5, 2011 at 11:05 AM
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Replies (1-10):
by Patty on Sep. 5, 2011 at 1:10 PM

 First of all, thank you for coaching us :)

Picking just one thing is harder than I thought it would be.

Last September was a time of change for us.  Our old school had closed in June and the kids were upset.   They were also a little anxious about making new friends and finding their way around a new school.   This year, we are looking forward to seeing those "new" friends again and excited about moving up to a new grade.


by Member on Sep. 5, 2011 at 1:51 PM


Shoes are a pain in the butt for us. I just spent over thirty minutes in a store trying to find the perfect shoes for my son. If I did not have to measure his feet, I would of sent him to Grandma's house. We finally have a pair we're both o.k. with and he'll be wearing them to school tomorrow.

by Crystal on Sep. 6, 2011 at 2:52 AM

 I also want to thank you so much for taking time out of your life to be here to help us become more familiar with this particular aspect of writing.  I had just wrote in my journal how fascinated I am by the differences in our lives yet how the similarities can just seem to line up at times in all different ways.  It truly is amazing to me!!

I don't know if this is quite what you had in mind with Lesson 1 but here's mine.

In the same moment that I had a revelation about God's love for and towards us, I also began to realize that my relationships with my children and husband may never be the same.  I have been this weird putty in God's hands since as it feels as though He is beginning to shape my ideas and thoughts on parenting and marriage into something completely different.

by Member on Sep. 6, 2011 at 12:07 PM

First Thank you for taking your time to help us with this valuable lesson in writing our Memoir.

Sept.6, 2011

I would say right now my life has changed drastically since our DD was killed leaving a baby of 18 months with a Dad that we feel is not exactly who we would have chosen as far as for a proper upbringing for our Gr-Son. Not judging him, except he sold drugs, did drugs and we're not sure if he still does since our DD died, fortunately, we do have partial custody due to this. 

Our Gr-Son, who is now 9, spent the summer with use, yet he loves his Dad as all children do, so my role in his life is what and how? My heart aches so for him and I need to try and evaluate my role in his life more and yet not neglect my other Gr-CHD at the same time. I truly need GODS help and guidance, but I made a promise to my DD I WILL do all I can to see that her son is taken care of and watched over by us.      

by Member on Sep. 6, 2011 at 12:34 PM

Hmm... Most of my kids are cyber-schooled, so school shoes is really not an issue for us.  The bigger issue for us is just making sure that everything is working. This morning is my kids' first day of school and my high schoolers had a 9AM video conference assembly, but when they tried to log in, we couldn't get the sound to work! We have 2 computers that are designated as Kid computers that are designated as gillacki and yogsothoth on our home network. Gillacki has speakers hooked up to it, but yogsothoth just has headphone jacks, so the plan had been to have them both log in on gillacki, but we could not get the sound to work at all there, so my kids attended the assembly on yogsothoth while sharing a pair of earbud style headphones so that they would both have sound. (It was adorable looking, but god forbid that I tell them that! lol)

by Kim on Sep. 6, 2011 at 2:19 PM

I loved reading all of these.  I'm having trouble isolating a memoir, so I'll be back later.  Just marking my spot here. ;)

by Member on Sep. 6, 2011 at 3:07 PM

To our surprise, he had passed!  As exciting as that is, I have to stay strict or on top of everything, due to the problems we had last year.  Hopefully this wakes him up to do well this year.  He is a very smart kid and is awesome at sports.  We both need to stay focused and he will make to 9th grade next year. Hope it ends well.

by New Member on Sep. 6, 2011 at 3:41 PM

 this is awesome!! thanks!!

by on Sep. 6, 2011 at 4:10 PM

Sending a child with autism back to school not only involves new shoes--which I bought at Wal-Mart while buying school supplies--but telling him over and over that yes, it IS time for school and you DO have to go.  My son would prefer to schedule his day around the TV and the computer.  Once he's there, though, he's OK.

by Member on Sep. 6, 2011 at 5:50 PM

Wow tinamatt I had that same conversation this morning.

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