4 Essentials for Writing Memoir That Resonates With Readers

by Guest Blogger | 30 comments

Today's guest post is by Cam Taylor. Cam helps people live an inspired, focused, and tenacious life. He does that through writing, coaching, and speaking. Read more of his story at www.camtaylor.net/about.

How do you write memoir and tell a story that is compelling to you, but might not be to your reader?

4 Essentials to Write Memoir That Resonates With Readers

Boredom is death for a writer and must be avoided at all cost. When writing memoir, the facts of a person’s life will fall short if that’s all you have to offer. You need something more if you want the story to come to life in the heart, mind, and imagination of the reader.

I’ve been wrestling with this challenge of writing memoir but feel like I’ve been able to take a few baby steps that I have to share with others. One of the stories I have written and soon will publish is the journey I took to recover from a near-fatal motorcycle accident. The second story, which is in the research phase, is to write my 85-year-old father’s memoirs.

The Problem With Writing Memoir

In The Art of Memoir, memoir expert Mary Karr says that no one buys a memoir or reads it to master the cold data of your life. I resonated with that reality. When I told the facts of my accident story, I got sympathy and interest but didn’t connect deeply with my readers.

As I practicing my writing, I noticed certain stories connected while others fell flat. I’m realizing that I need to build a bridge from my reader to my story, and back again.

4 Ways to Build Bridges When Writing Memoir

It's one thing to know you need to build bridges; it's another thing entirely to build them—and build them well. Here are four ways I'm building bridges between my writing and my readers:

1. Find your voice and stay true to it

Your voice is the delivery system for your experience—whether your own story or the one you are telling. My voice is unique and I’m learning to hone it and refine it. For example, when I speak from the heart, with realness, and guide people like a teacher, I connect with my readers.

2. Be honest and authentic in your writing.

Honesty in memoir writing is good medicine. When I admit my weakness and don’t sugar coat deceive the reader with exaggeration or misrepresentation, I land the writing. Honesty and authenticity build the bridge to my story and draw people in, giving permission to teach and show them the way.

3. Relate the memoir to the experiences of others

People need hope when they read our stories. True hope isn’t wishful thinking, but rather a future expectation plus a pathway to get to that destination.

With memoir, when you relate experiences that are common and give hope which includes practical ways to live, encouragement happens. I want people to say: Wow, if he got through that struggle that way, I might also!

4. Share the wisdom of others to add authority

One way to build credibility and bring more authority to your message is to quote people who have walked the journey you’re talking about. I’ve done it by telling the stories of Nelson Mandela and Viktor Frankl. I do it here when talking about the practice of writing.

“As a communicator, your voice matters. More than you realize. We (your audience) are relying on you for your insight and profundity. We need you to poke and prod, not merely pander. You have to be yourself, to speak in a way that is true to you. This is the next step to claiming your life as a writer—taking yourself seriously so your audience will too.”

—Jeff Goins, You Are a Writer

Now Go Build Your Bridge

When you have a story to tell, whether it’s your own or someone else's, it can connect with readers. Find your voice and be true to it. Be honest and authentic. Relate to the experience of others in order to build a bridge. Raise the credibility bar by sharing the wisdom of others.

When you write memoir well, you walk your readers across the bridge to you and back into their life with greater inspiration and understanding of how to be their best.

How do you help readers connect with your personal story? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Pick an event from your life that had an impact (a transition, a loss, a new beginning) and write about it for fifteen minutes without stopping. As you write, imagine someone standing on the other side of a bridge waiting to walk over to you. Make the story compelling. Be honest. Be real. Find a point of connection. Then once you’ve given them something, give them tangible ways to go back into their life and make a difference with what they’ve learned.

When you're done, share your writing in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers.

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30 Comments

  1. Christine

    I don’t know if this “memoir” fits the bill or not, but I’d love to have some input as to how to improve it.

    I was a six-year-old kid who’d seen a piano. Watching my teacher’s fingers dance over the keys, dreamed about being able to play like her. Yes, my six-year-old mind — totally free of comprehension of the difficulties involved, or the expense — imagined it would be thrilling to produce beautiful melodies.

    I told my parents I wanted to play the piano and they bought the picture. They just couldn’t afford the piano. However, they thought I might have some musical talent so they did what they could: one day a man came to our house and showed us a child-sized accordion. Much more affordable than a piano. He set this cumbersome accordion on my chest and I fiddled with it some while my parents discussed price.

    They asked me if I would like to play the accordion. If I’d been smarter, I’d have said, “No. An accordion is NOT a piano.” I could have saved my folks a lot of money and me a lot of guilt trips. But kids live for today. They aren’t into thinking ahead, imagining hours of practice every week. They have no idea how much this is costing their folks. And they tend to say yes because they sense it will please mom and dad.

    So my folks bought the accordion, which came with once-a-week sessions with the tutor — and lots of practice sheets for me to work on at home. They reminded me to practice but they were both working so it fell to me to decide when and how often. Well, you’ve really got to love an instrument to be that devoted at that age. Then once a week I’d hear, “It’s time to go for your lesson. He’s going to be really mad at you for not practicing.” Which made me want to avoid the tutor because who wants to spend time with someone who’s going to be really mad at you?

    Eventually the accordion was put away with other brilliant childhood flashes. I still get a twinge of guilt thinking about what my parents paid for nothing and wish I’d just said “No.” But after all I was only six. I didn’t understand whims until I was a lot older.

    Kids always ask for things. Didn’t you? It’s just their easily influenced, tomorrow-less nature. Ads only make them want more and the requests more pricey. And they know how to beg, too. So parents let themselves be persuaded that this item will make the child more content, co-operative, etc. True, once Junior has it, he or she is satisfied for awhile. Tomorrow they may not be interested in the thing at all. Is there any way to prepare parents for this awful truth?

    Or did Grandpa and Grandma have it easier? They just said, “We can’t afford it,” and that was that.

    Reply
    • Cam Taylor

      Hi Christine, Thanks for putting your story out there and being open to feedback. I like how you paint pictures for the reader like “fingers dance over the keys” and “this cumbersome accordion on my chest.” You also let us in on the thinking process of a six year old which I think we can all relate to. One suggestion for this story is I’m not sure the point you are wanting to get across. It was a mixture of the dream to play the piano (which never showed up again after the 1st paragraph) – what happened to that dream? Did it ever resurface?
      The theme of “just say no” shows up as a regret by the six year old and the possibility that Grandpa and Grandma had it easy because they just said no?
      I get the sense your story is really about how dreams can be squashed by a lack of courage, lack of opportunity, misdirected help, etc.
      The bottom line is you are creating a bridge over to the six year old’s world – I think being more clear on her dream and the connection it has with the reader, might bring them back over the bridge to their life.
      I hope that helps. Keep creating your art!
      Cam

    • Christine

      Thanks for your input. My story went in a couple different directions; I didn’t being it together well. But no, it wasn’t about dreams being squashed. I think the same thing would have happened if they’d actually bought me a piano because my attention span was so short. The accordion was just one of many guilt trips resulting from some short-lived whim of mine which left my parents so disappointed in me.

      What I wanted to bring out was: don’t expect adult understanding or staying power in a child. I wanted to bring parents into a six-year-old’s mind so they’d see how kids live for the moment. If you give them all the stuff they beg for, in the end they won’t thank you for it — they’ll just want something more. The thing that tends to stick, worse luck, is they sense you’re disappointed in them for behaving like a typical child.

    • Cam Taylor

      I like how you’re processing the story. As I’ve heard so many times, we need to be easy on ourselves with our first few drafts knowing we learn as we go. I appreciate the opportunity to interact with you around your story.

    • Sherrie

      Christine and Cam —
      My husband and I have raised six of our grandchildren. They have all had music lessons. I usually starts with a whim. My oldest granddaughter came home one day with a flyer from school promoting a school orchestra. That flyer grew into reams of violin music and books of piano music. Recently, my grandchildren’s music teacher passed away from liver cancer. Her last request was to have the children play their Christmas songs for her. Even in her weak condition, she smiled and laughed with the children. Teaching music had been her life, and her legacy was all those children she had introduced to making music.
      That is what I meant when I said that learning music is a triangle that includes the student, the parents, and the teacher.
      I look forward to reading the next draft of your memoir.
      — Sherrie

    • Sherrie

      Hi Christine and Cam —
      I agree with Cam. But I also wondered if that six-year-old found any connection at all between the elegant piano and the tiny keyboard on the accordion? And I think there is a disconnect between that triangle of the child on one side, the parents on another, and the music instructor on the third side. Perhaps showing the reader a lesson when the child had not practiced can better express that painful time. Just my thoughts. I hope they help.

    • retrogeegee

      I don’t think this quite engages the reader, but then again I read the entire piece and It made me think of my own music memoir which went quite differently. Let’s see if I can demonstrate what I think you you need in your piece. I think you might need more interaction. Here is my attempt at a music memory with more interaction.

      The salesman came to our door in farmhouse upper apartment. The violin lay in red velvet covered case. My young mother and four year old pigtailed me answered the rarely rung doorbell. ” Who is it Mom? Who is it?”

      I don’t even remember if she answered me. She let him in to demonstrate the violin. “Oh, yes, ” she said after he explained something about the bow that was beyond my ken.

      He picked up the silver tonged appearing pitch pipe, put it to his lips and blew out a clear sounding note. My eyes widened. He then matched the sound of one of the strings on the violin when touched with the bow. I became entranced.

      Time and conversation passed somewhere I heard the phrase, “Forty dollars a month” and my mothers eyes, scanned the living room floor.

      The man turned toward me asked, “What do you think young lady, Would you like the opportunity to learn to play this?”

      “Does that silver thing come with it?” I asked>

      ” It sure does,” he replied.

      “Yea a sure would like to” I said with a firmer tone.

      As he placed the violin in the rec velvet lined case he turned to my Mother and asked if we would like to try it out for a month.

      My Mother.s reply left me feeling deflated as she thanked for his time but declined is offer at this time.

      When the door closed I grilled her, “Oh, Mom! I would have wanted to learn to play this. Why did you say no?”

      “Well, Donna, I just can’t see taking forty dollars so you can play with pitch pipe.”

      It made me mad that she could read my mind. The incident made me mad!!! How did she know it was really the pitch pipe I was after? It made me wary of the power of mothers,

    • Christine

      Good for your mom — she was wise! By the way, the pitch pipes I’ve see are round discs, silver on one side, black on the other. Harmonicas are also used sometimes. I can’t visualize your silver-tonged thing.

  2. Lorna Robinson

    I sat on the edge of the bed,
    my heart, heavy and me close to tears,
    I knew what I had to say…
    But it was so hard,
    Hard for me to admit,
    I didn’t want to say goodbye.
    Dad, I love you,
    you have been a great Dad
    but
    I can see you’re in pain…Dad squeezed my hand
    Dad, I want you to know Mum will be alright… I will look after her.
    You can be at peace… you can go, I stroked his hand… he squeezed it ever so gently.

    Reply
    • Cam Taylor

      Your story draws me in beautifully. Your style is short and punchy with a touch of creativity which is effective. Your love for each other in spite of the pain is well represented. I wonder about the interplay between dialog and action – they might be better separated (for example, in one line you say “I can see you’re in pain” then you say “Dad squeezed my hand.” Hope that helps a little 🙂 I love how you express the intimacy of the relationship.

    • Lorna Robinson

      Thank you Cam, you have been helpful, i will keep that in mind.

    • Sherrie

      A good beginning to what could be a much larger story. You have teased the reader with a flavor of the love between child and father. Now give us the meat.

  3. Tim Olson

    This took me a bit longer than 15 minutes but I wrote it as part of my memoir and would like to see if it fits your guidelines.
    The Boxer

    I was 7 one early summer day when mom called me in to try on some new used clothes. Brand new clothes might come on my birthday or Christmas but this was just a regular summer day so they were new to me, but not new new. I don’t think I knew the difference or really cared. They were just clothes, right?

    Except for one thing. Included with the clothes was a kind of pants I hadn’t seen before. They were shorts and had colored stripes on them.

    “Hunh, I never saw pants like these before,” I said rather disinterestedly.

    “Oh, those are called boxer shorts,” mom informed me.

    My eyes lit up, “Really? Boxer shorts?” Now here was a name for a thing that had real meaning! I was ecstatic. I pulled off my jeans and slipped the boxer shorts over my underpants and started shadow boxing around the room. I had seen some boxing events on the tv upstairs at my cousin’s place so I knew how they did it. Just wearing those shorts made me into a big tough guy. This was really a nice gift.

    Mom laughed and didn’t seem to think anything more of it.

    But I sure did. I wanted to be the boxer and I wanted to share my newfound “uniform” with my friends. The next day I slipped my boxer shorts on over my underpants and then my jeans. It didn’t seem right to just wear them until I got into “the ring.” I ran outside and found my cousin Paul, Butchy, and Jacky from down the block playing next door in Butchy’s back yard.

    “Hey, I’ve got an idea.” They could see my excitement. ”Let’s have boxing matches, like we’re real boxers.” I didn’t know how this was going to work because I thought we ought to be able to punch each other but not get hurt, maybe like pretending to hit but at least acting like we were hitting. Isn’t that how play works at that age?

    They seemed dubious and a bit puzzled but I egged them on and said, “Look what I got.” I sat down and pulled off my jeans then stood up and pulled off my t-shirt. With my arms held out and a big smile on my face I declared, “Boxer shorts!”

    “Come on, Butchy, box with me.” I started sparring, although I didn’t know it was called that, and he reluctantly pretended with me for a few seconds. Even though we weren’t actually hitting, I tried making sounds with my mouth as if we were. It was a hard sell to get them boxing and I was getting irritated because they were laughing at me more than anything.

    Before long a few more neighborhood kids came running into the yard and were yelling and laughing something about me being out in my underpants.

    “No, no. They’re not underpants! They’re boxer shorts.” I tried to convince them but it was hopeless.

    Then the worst that could happen, happened. Mom was calling me from the window next door and was she mad. I hated that because she not only got mad at what I had done, she always made me feel bad about myself. Despite the jeers and laughter I put on my shirt and jeans, hopped over the fence, and ran inside.

    “Shame on you running around in your underpants! What were you thinking?” She gave me a few whacks on the rear in between words and I cried more out of confusion than hurt.

    “Mom, you said these were boxing shorts, not underpants.” I showed her my underpants and held up the boxers for comparison, “These are underpants. These are boxing shorts. You said so.”

    When the reality of my innocence dawned on mom I thought I saw the curl of a grin cut across her stern face. Nonetheless, the shame and embarrassment she obviously felt were too much for my sincere explanation to overcome and she continued her tirade of shame.

    Obviously it was the accumulation and pattern of many shaming events like this one where I learned three things about shame. First, mom truly believed if I was made to feel bad enough I would never do again whatever it was I had done. In reality, her shaming rarely explained what was wrong about my actions and I only heard the words “worthless” and “bad.” Second, many years later, I learned shame attacks one’s character and wounds the very essence of one’s being. Along with that I thankfully learned that while I was wounded by shame I was eventually healed by grace. I wasn’t worthless after all but that’s another story.

    Reply
    • Lorna Robinson

      Great story, I really like the innocence that I thought you showed so well in your story. I just wanted your Mum to understand for you… I think that’s a bridge ( the way you made me feel). I also liked the explanation .. I learned three things…, I also liked your ending that leaves me wanting to hear more.

    • Tim Olson

      Thanks Lorna. That helps me as I write more.

    • Cam Taylor

      Tim, I found myself pulled right into your story. Great use of dialog and the use of word pictures to help us “see” the shorts and your shadow boxing etc. The reaction of you Mom was a shock and something I wasn’t expecting – but showed the raw reality of how life can play out. I love the story of redemption and healing that followed in your life after the shaming that went on. Those tapes are so strong in our lives – and we all have them. The story has a lot of potential – as you develop the relationship you had with your mother.
      Thanks for sharing so authentically!

    • Tim Olson

      Thanks, Cam, I have been practicing my writing and your article was a big help. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Sefton

    The main thing I see missing in draft memoir are not any of these four, but another four things:

    Structure – by time, by place, by anything, but there must be structure.
    Theme – something to tie together the necessarily diverse elements of a life. What is this story about? Why select these snippets of a life?
    Metaphor – where the writer uses imagery to offer a lesson for the reader, or hints at the lesson they learned themselves through this experience.
    Specificity. I know a person writing a memoir and her details of life in Brooklyn in the 1960s are OUTSTANDING. I feel I could find my way around her world. But a lot of draft memoirs I see in writing groups feel generic, making me wonder -why would anyone read this? Specific details lift a story.

    Just my thoughts. The four things mentioned in the blog above are vital too, but I don’t see writers struggling with those.

    -Sef

    Reply
    • Cam Taylor

      Thanks Sefton for your additional comments. I know full well that I just scratched the surface in my article — you added some excellent points.
      All the best in your writing journey!

    • Sefton

      You struck a chord! Memoir is big right now. How about another post on fictionalised memoir? That strikes me as very hard to pull off.

  5. Reagan Colbert

    Very, very good article. It gives me a lot to think about! I’m currently ghostwriting a memoir for a very special person, my boyfriend’s Mom. The story itself is about the lives of her and her two kids, who both had cancer (my boyfriend still has brain cancer). I wasn’t certain when I began to write that I’d be able to, since I’d written 100% fiction before this (three Amazon novellas). Because it was nonfiction I thought it would be completely different, and I was shocked to find that it really wasn’t that different at all!
    I have so far been able to take my fiction experience and voice (like you said above) and inject it into the story, so it’s like I’m writing a fictional novel, except that its all true. I’d say a lot of the same fiction rules apply to memoir too, especially the art of getting into character, which is essential for me, since I have to write it from the first-person POV of my boyfriend’s Mom! (So in a sense, I have to be his mother when I’m writing. I find that funny.)

    Thanks for the article – I always love the ones that make me look at my project from a different angle!

    Reply
    • Cam Taylor

      Thanks Reagan for your reflections on how what I said helped you think about your writing. It does sound like a challenging project (and more personal than fiction) but I can tell that you are taking what you’ve learned from writing fiction and finding a way to transfer the learning.
      It sounds like you’ll be writing on topics of dealing with adversity and hardship with the battle with cancer. I can certainly relate as my own memoir (I’m calling it “Detour: A Roadmap for when Life Gets Rerouted”) is about my 3 year+ recovery after a serious motorcycle accident. That book is coming out in May. A fun process.
      Best of luck with your writing pursuits!

  6. irene wheeldon

    I didn’t know it back then, but after the other thing, I know now.
    A weekend away at my parents’ friend’s house. Her daughter took me out for the day. She went to see her ‘friend’. They had an argument and I started crying. At the age of five it scared me and I wanted to go home back to my mummy and daddy. My parents’ friend’s daughter couldn’t console me, so in a temper she argued more with her ‘friend’ then stormed out of the flat, calling out to me to stay there cos she was going out to have a cigarette. She left me alone with her friend.
    I remember what her friend looked like. His hair was a mullet blonde (eighties style). He wore white jeans. I will never forget those jeans. He pulled me between his legs trying to console me and my tears and was stroking my arms. He was trying to be nice, but I didn’t like it.
    Thirty-five years on, the memory of that scene is still with me and the older I get, the more it haunts me. I don’t have any recollection of after, just that snapshot. The older I get the more I realise I’m blank. Something is missing from my memory and it will always haunt me

    Reply
    • Sherrie

      Irene, you have the beginnings of a good story here. Perhaps using that “snapshot” as a way to frame the experience would help organize the memory. Also, adding names can help clarify the action. Names, even if not exactly the true names, can make the story easier to read and follow.
      Keep writing, refining, and sorting out the story. And thank you for sharing your experience.
      — Sherrie

  7. Margo

    I had been on my back for a week and a half. I had woken up screaming at a nurse about to draw my blood. I’d endured the fog of morphine, which didn’t dull the fire in my back, but made me incapable of complaining about it. I had sucked on ice chips without quelling my thirst. I had even seen Jesus in the dim light of intensive care. But now, the pain of surgery was subsiding and they wanted me to sit up every day. That’s when Mom decided to bring my best friend to visit me in the hospital. And that is what I wanted least in the world, at least not today.

    When she told me that she was bringing Pam for a visit, I begged her not to. Not tomorrow. I had sat up for the first time that day and wretched. I didn’t want to deal with people when all I could concentrate on was my own messy, active, overwhelming sickness. When Pam came, I wanted to be able to talk to her and tell her about my experience and hear about what was going on. It was the summer of our Sophomore year. Had she seen any of our friends? What had she been doing while I was in the hospital? No one had come to see me. I didn’t want to ruin her visit with puke and gore. But I was 14 years old and didn’t know how to say that, so I just said no, and Mom didn’t listen.

    My only hope that day was that I would be lying down when Mom and Pam arrived. Since I was only up for maybe 15 minutes a day, there was a good chance of that. Around mid morning, the nurse started bullying me to get up and sit in a chair. “No,” I said. I wanted to say more, but my words dissolved into emotions and I couldn’t make sense of my own feelings. How do you tell someone you don’t want to be humiliated when it is humiliating to do so? Before I knew it, the nurse had me sitting up. My legs were swung over the edge of the bed and I was standing. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle and I was sitting again in a chair next to the bed. The curtain was drawn and I was wrenching into a blue plastic bowl. That’s when Pam walked in.

    I couldn’t even look at her. My had spun. I wanted to say hello, I wanted to talk, but all I could do was clutch the bowl looking utterly miserable in my hospital gown. Pam gave me something and then left quickly. The nurse got me back into bed. The spinning stopped, I felt so much better. All I could think about was how my Mom had gone to Pam’s house, picked her up, and driven all the way downtown to stay less than 5 minutes. I wondered what they talked about on the way home. I was a bad friend, and I would just have to not think about it anymore or it couldn’t be endured.

    Reply
  8. Margo

    I had been on my back for a week and a half. I had woken up screaming at a nurse about to draw my blood. I’d endured the fog of morphine, which didn’t dull the fire in my back, but made me incapable of complaining about it. I had sucked on ice chips without quelling my thirst. I had even seen Jesus in the dim light of intensive care. But now, the pain of surgery was subsiding and they wanted me to sit up every day. That’s when Mom decided to bring my best friend to visit me in the hospital. And that is what I wanted least in the world, at least not today.

    When she told me that she was bringing Pam for a visit, I begged her not to. Not tomorrow. I had sat up for the first time that day and wretched. I didn’t want to deal with people when all I could concentrate on was my own messy, active, overwhelming sickness. When Pam came, I wanted to be able to talk to her and tell her about my experience and hear about what was going on. It was the summer of our Sophomore year. Had she seen any of our friends? What had she been doing while I was in the hospital? No one had come to see me. I didn’t want to ruin her visit with puke and gore. But I was 14 years old and didn’t know how to say that, so I just said no, and Mom didn’t listen.

    My only hope that day was that I would be lying down when Mom and Pam arrived. Since I was only up for maybe 15 minutes a day, there was a good chance of that. Around mid morning, the nurse started bullying me to get up and sit in a chair. “No,” I said. I wanted to say more, but my words dissolved into emotions and I couldn’t make sense of my own feelings. How do you tell someone you don’t want to be humiliated when it is humiliating to do so? Before I knew it, the nurse had me sitting up. My legs were swung over the edge of the bed and I was standing. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle and I was sitting again in a chair next to the bed. The curtain was drawn and I was wrenching into a blue plastic bowl. That’s when Pam walked in.

    I couldn’t even look at her. My had spun. I wanted to say hello, I wanted to talk, but all I could do was clutch the bowl looking utterly miserable in my hospital gown. Pam gave me something and then left quickly. The nurse got me back into bed. The spinning stopped, I felt so much better. All I could think about was how my Mom had gone to Pam’s house, picked her up, and driven all the way downtown to stay less than 5 minutes. I wondered what they talked about on the way home. I was a bad friend, and I would just have to not think about it anymore or it couldn’t be endured.

    Reply
  9. Sherrie

    “Queen of the Highway”
    The reflection in my bathroom mirror reveals a gray, amorphous blob. Dark sunglasses
    perch atop short gray hair for easy access. Jeans protect my shins and knees
    from those inevitable bumps, while tennis shoes prevent scraped toes when I
    kick a “wet floor” sign or step off the edge of a sidewalk. I feel very vulnerable
    these days.

    My
    lack of sight changes both perception and perspective. Tone and inflection in a
    voice signal me of someone’s joy or apprehension because I see no facial
    expressions or body language. The experience of poetry or prose resonates more deeply
    because they are read aloud to me. When you can not see the faces of your
    children or husband, the latest fashions, or even your own reflection, the mind
    finds a new way of knowing.

    I remember the day I received my first white
    cane. Mimi, the mobility instructor, brought it with her. She described it to
    me – aluminum, in four pieces held together with an internal bungee cord that
    allows it to snap into place when opened, a red ring around the section closest
    to the ground, and a marshmallow-shaped rolling ball on the end so that it
    won’t get caught in the cracks in the sidewalk. She explained that the cane
    means that “you’re queen of the highway.”

    Mimi and I sat outside at a wrought
    iron table in the courtyard of Pima College east campus that February day. The tick-tick-tick of the rooftop devices that scared away birds marked
    the immediacy of my future. My heart beat faster with apprehension. The smell
    of chlorine in a nearby fountain cleansed away my past. Mimi handed me that bundle
    of white, aluminum tubes. The folded cane felt strange in my hand, cold and
    hard and unforgiving. Taking hold of it caused a sensation to rise within me –
    30percent thrill and 70 percent pure terror.

    This cane told the
    world that this woman can’t see, is blind. I held the thing
    that announced my disability to the world. But besides that, the cane meant
    letting go of that guiding, protecting hand.

    We rose from the
    table, I opened the new cane, and it snapped into place. my legs
    trembled. I extended the cane out in front of me and stepped into a new life.

    Reply
  10. Jeffrey Pillow

    Structure is always my biggest barrier. Finding the proper narrative framework for my memoir(s) keeps me up at night. Luckily, it keeping me up allows me to steal a few extra minutes to write.

    Reply
  11. Ashley Morrison

    Thank you for the article! I am currently writing a memoir, this is the beginning, I am struggling with making the story flow I would say. Any feedback would be appreciated!

    “I’m in a hallway sitting with my knees bent as my back curves uncomfortably against the old yellow wall made to make you feel happy. There is no happiness here. Just stale air mixed with the heat of the un-airconditioned building.

    Flashes of memories I want to forget dance through my mind like a throbbing headache. I never would have envisioned myself winding up in a psych ward. A “pre-caution”, they say. I was too late for dinner, so a plate of 5 o’clock veiny ham sits beside soaking spinach and mushy orange potatoes. I make an attempt to eat and show I am going along with the program.

    Since I’m new at the facility, if that’s what you want to call it, I get put in the “hold” section of the ward. It’s were the most severe mentally ill live. The ones too difficult for the normal wards filled with sane people. I came in around 8 PM, once the hospital that had treated me released me to one of the state pyshicatric wards.

    A man in a gown paces the hallway, watching me with an eery gaze that gives me a sense of uneasiness. I make an attempt to venture into the lounge. It’s a small room across from the nurses station, so the staff can keep an eye on you. Hard plastic chairs and a bench face a tv with basketball on, but no one is actually watching. It’s dark out and I can’t see whats outside the windows at the far side of the room. A girl stands on the outskirts of the room, staring at nothing. Her gown is open in the back revealing an adult diaper which droops with waste. I retreat down the hallway back to the 3 bed room I am assigned to. There is no door, and I can feel the gaze of the man pacing the hall every time he passes. I can’t help but wonder where he came form. Was he a normal guy at one point? And was I ever a normal girl?

    I try to sleep in my twin sized bed but it’s hard to do so when you aren’t sure if your safe or not. My mind is foggy from a mix of drugs given to me at the hospital. The only relief I have is knowing that every 15 minutes someone checks the dark room with a flashlight to make sure you are breathing. It’s protocol to make sure none of you have killed each other, or yourself. The girl in the bed next to me is laughing to herself, there must be an ongoing joke in her head I am unaware of. Her brown hair falls in front of her green eyes and she does nothing to pull it back. She is thin and delicate looking, curled up in a fetal position on her bed. She reminds me of a flower that was stepped on, her mind has been crushed and she can’t get back to her perfect form. I later find out her name is Sarah.

    The other girl, Jess, assigned to the bed behind me, is surrounded by stuffed animals. She’s more neurotic looking, with frizzy hair and a panicked look on her face. Over and over again she repeats to herself,

    “I want to hurt everyone”,

    “I think things will be O.K.”,

    “I just don’t know anymore”.

    The only way I get any sleep at all is the sweet older man volunteer who promises to watch closely over me throughout the night. He knows I have never been in a situation like this before and am scared to close my eyes.”

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  12. Maggie Cashman

    “Honey, we’re bringing Sudie’s dog home with us.”
    “Why?” I asked, hand hovering over the stove dial, ready to boil water for tea.
    “Sudie’s gone to the hospital-” Dad started.
    “What?!” I bolted upright.
    “It’s okay, it’s okay! She’s fine. She’s just having little trouble breathing. It’s no big deal. The doctors just want to see how the medication works. They’d rather see her in the hospital than at home. Do you understand?”
    “Yeah… yeah, I understand.” I held the phone away so I could try to stop the hysterical breathing that tends to come before I cry.
    “She’s going to be okay.”
    “Yeah.” I tasted pennies.
    “We’ll be home soon.”
    “Okay.” I felt jittery as I hung up the phone.
    “I’ll pray for your grandma tonight,” Celia the Evangelist said as we were walking out of class.
    “That’s okay. It’s no big deal.” Maggie the Parrot said, smiling, tasting pennies again. I appreciated her concern, but I balked at the word pray. Ironic, considering a St. Bridget’s cross dangled from my neck. Celia walked away, and I had to get back to Social Studies.
    I sat at the top of the stairs that afternoon, before Mom and Dad got back from work. There was a picture of Sudie hanging on the wall. I felt jittery and tired of tasting pennies. When I was in third grade, my dog Stella died. She had kidney failure, and her liver wasn’t looking too good, either. Mom told us she was very sick, but it would be over soon. I didn’t exactly get it until she let us sleep with Stella for a week. Stella never got to sleep with us. She curled around my little sister, and rested her nose on my pillow. She looked weary, asking me “Why won’t you go to sleep?” Her breath seemed to groan as it left her lungs with ever inhale and exhale. The spark in her eyes that had marked her youth had faded. As I watched her, I realized that my dog was dying. Eight years later, I looked at the old picture of my Grandmother hanging on the wall. She didn’t smile in the picture, and her eyes stared. I felt like I was experiencing de ja vu when I realized that my grandmother was dying, too.

    Reply

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