Opening Salvos by Matilda Butler
“A room of one’s own is essential,” said SCN-member Susan Tweit in a recent interview with Kendra Bonnett and me. That got me thinking. In my memoir classes, I almost always bring up Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. It is a marvelous shorthand for the importance of having personal space for your writing life. I’m always surprised how often women make-do with borrowed space such as the kitchen table and even borrowed computers, getting down words when a husband has temporarily vacated the machine.
But more importantly, Susan’s comment reminded me that one element of a good beginning for a memoir, the usual topic of this Opening Salvos blog, is where you begin your writing each day. A place to invite your muse, a place to lock out your inner critic (or at least send her out to pick fresh mint and make you a cup of tea), a place to write and rewrite your story is worth considering.
Want to hear about Susan Tweit’s writing room? I think her description will inspire you to find your own space and make it uniquely your own. We may not all have the view she does, but we can create a writing environment that will nurture us and our work. CLICK HERE to go to the audio of our interview with Susan.
“Susan, how long did it take you to find the right opening for your memoir? I asked. “A long time, a long, long time,” she responded. Susan worked on her memoir over a 25 year period. She’s a working journalist and viewed her memoir as a project that could be resumed when she wasn’t writing to pay the bills. She went on to explain that the opening in her just published memoir, Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey, didn’t come about until the final draft. In each draft, she avoided the dramatic opening. Finally, a editor told her that a memoir has the same requirement as a piece of fiction. It needs to draw you in from the very first page. Susan was afraid of opening with the most dramatic moment in her life because she felt there was a “real peril to it.” The editor gently pushed her by asking, “If you are afraid of that opening, why are you afraid?” Finally, she realized that she could begin with a dramatic moment and not let it take control of her story, a story that she actually thinks of as a “love story,” not an “illness story.”
Kendra and I interviewed Susan for almost an hour, posing both our questions and questions from visitors to our women’s memoir website. There are tips and insights for everyone interested in the memoir genre. For example, do you know the best way to decide on a title for your memoir? What do you do if you think the voice is not right? How can you write a memoir without it being a “pity party?” There were great questions and insightful answers.
Susan says that writing her memoir helped her learn to listen to herself, to put aside the noise of life, and listen to her inner voice. These wise words are just a sample of the richness of Susan's interview. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO SUSAN’S INTERVIEW.