An Editor’s Perspective: An Editor is Writing Her Own Memoir, Part 1


Matilda Butler, SCN Editorial Service, #8

Did you know that Story Circle Network (SCN) can help you find an editor? SCN’s Editorial Service (SCN/ES) is a valuable feature of this organization. Kendra Bonnett and I are pleased to be SCN/ES’s co-coordinators. As you may know, we have put together a team of professional editors who are especially attuned to the stories women write. It can be a scary step to have a manuscript professionally edited and we’re here to make that step as easy as possible. If you have questions about the process or the costs, please email either of us–matilda (at) womensmemoirs (dot) com or kendra (at) womensmemoirs (dot) com. We’ll be glad to walk you through the steps or answer any of your questions.

Kendra and I have found the SCN/ES editors are especially writer-friendly. They give clear direction on what to do next in your revision process. Clients of SCN/ES have been delighted with both the process and the result.

Roseanne Rini is one of the SCN/ES editors and she has written several interesting articles for this website. Currently, she is bridging two roles — editor and writer. Yes, she too is working on her own memoir and decided to share her process and thoughts with you. If you’re looking for an editor, you might consider Roseanne. Trust us — your manuscript will always take precedence over her personal writing. By the way, if you are interested in Part 2 to this discussion, please see womensmemoirs.com.

Writing My Memoir: One Vignette at a Time, Part 1
Roseanne Rini

I started writing my memoir as a way of coming to grips with my mother’s death. I had been writing in my journal all along, but for the first time I felt an impulse to tell the story of the last months of her life with a reader in mind. I began with a memorable experience the day of her funeral. What I wrote was just a few paragraphs long, but it seemed to satisfy something. Other short pieces followed. Eventually, these pieces were not just about my mother’s death but also about her life, and my own as her daughter.

I call these little essays “vignettes”: brief anecdotes or sketches, snapshots, complete unto themselves. A memory, a story or an idea would float to the surface of my consciousness and, trusting this process might eventually lead me somewhere, I would write about it, give the piece a title, and add it to my file. Louise DeSalvo, who wrote Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, a book I highly recommend, calls this stage of the writing process “germination.” As my file has grown, suggesting the possibility of a book-length memoir, I’ve been thinking about how the individual pieces might be organized or woven together. What relation do they have to one another and where might more writing be necessary in order to provide the connections?

It has also occurred to me, however, that a memoir can, like Devotion, by Dani Shapiro, consist entirely of short pieces, without the connections between them being immediately clear. A central concern runs through all of the very brief “chapters” of Shapiro’s book: how she defines herself and especially her spirituality at mid-life, and what her life will be about, what direction it will take, from this point on. However, she touches upon a wide range of topics in relation to this overriding theme, for example, her son’s illness, her relationships with her parents, her exploration of the spiritual practice of metta and her rediscovery of her Judaism. The essays are in some cases as short as a one-paragraph definition: “The Sanskrit word for devotion is bhakta. . . .” or as long as a six- page description of a recent experience or a childhood memory. She seems to leave to the reader the task of perceiving how each selection is related to all the others, but it is clear by the end of the memoir that she has found a certain peace about the issues with which she began and has indeed found her direction.

With my own work, I found myself, not surprisingly, writing more than one piece on any given theme. My strategy thus far has been to group pieces on similar themes and to make a list of the themes to which I keep returning, in the hopes that I might discover a pattern or design. Essentially, this is a matter of discerning the story or stories I am trying to tell. Telling the story of my mother’s dying is taking me into an exploration of the complex connection I had with her. I find myself writing about, among other things, religion, ethnicity, cooking and female conditioning; about the ways we were connected, and the ways we were not. And as I tell her story I am also telling my own.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ve provided two examples from my writing that suggest, as I have discovered, one of my memoir’s major themes. Please see womensmemoirs.com for a continuation of this discussion.

3 responses to “An Editor’s Perspective: An Editor is Writing Her Own Memoir, Part 1

  1. Thank you for this timely post. I have been considering the concept of writing my memoir through a series of vignettes. Vignettes suit my lifestyle, where I am right now,a mother of a very busy household. But vignettes are a form of writing that I can actually do! Added to this is the possibility of incorporating some sections of poetic prose. All of a sudden the pieces are beginning to merge into something like the idea of a whole. I shall check out the 2nd part of your post as well as Dani Shapiro’s book. Thank you!

  2. Pingback: Editors on Editing: An Editor Is Writing Her Own Memoir — Memoir Writing Blog

  3. roseanne rini

    Dear Edith,
    Thank you for your response. I agree that the process of writing vignettes suits women’s often busy lives. As it sounds like you are discovering, and as DeSalvo writes in her book on writing and healing, if you trust yourself with this process the design eventually reveals itself. I like your idea of incorporating poetic prose. I think memoir is a very flexible form, allowing the mixture of poetry and prose, as well as photography or other media, in whatever ways the writer desires. Best of luck with your work.
    Roseanne

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