Over the years, I have heard numerous speakers talk about memoir writing. I learned something from every speaker, but this past Monday was most fun I had in years. not only I learned from the speaker but also I enjoyed his presentation. He didn’t have slides or pictures, he had himself and his memoir. Here is my take of his presentation.
“What is the truth?” he asked loudly. “It is a fact of life that we embrace,” he softened his tone. He is Kevin Fisher-Paulson, who is a father, husband, poet, author, and the Captain of the Honor Guard for the San Francisco sheriff.
Kevin talks about his Irish catholic grandmother who broke early 20th century barriers by marrying a protestant man. He describes his grandparents’ compromise on how to raise their children. It was decided that Kevin’s grandfather would name them; Kevin’s grandmother would raise them as catholic. As a result, Kevin’s mother was named Vivian but was baptized as Ruth. His mother learned her legal name when she applied for a nursing certificate. “That is when” Kevin says, “my mother chose to continue identifying herself as Nurse Vivian.”
Kevin emphasizes that is where the crux of a memoir lies: Truth is a fact that we embrace. The job of a memoir writer is to be interesting by dramatizing life but never by fabricating the truth. He reiterates that a memoir is not a work of fiction. To dramatize doesn’t mean that you can invent things. He cautious us not to erase the bad parts of our life while writing a memoir. He explains that by just listing the facts a memoir will read like an autobiography. Remember that the trick to writing a memoir is to give readers what they want to read. Ask yourself, will a reader be more interested in reading about the cat lady next door or about Barack Obama.
Kevin underlines that all of us have a unique story. The way we organize our words would ultimately make them stand out. He compares memoir writing to a pilgrimage—a journey where memoir writers discover their own identity and truth. He recounts, “I am a white gay man with an adoptive black child.” He explains that he is both Kevin Fisher-Paulson and Kevin Paulson. But he needed to decide the identity that he relates to, because our memoir is not only how we remember our life, but also embracing how all of us are different things.
He informs that his current memoir is one year, 365 days, of his life. After reading an excerpt from his book A Song for Lost Angels, Kevin outlines an easy method to start a memoir. He ask future memoir writers to keep a dirty notebook (emphasizes on ‘dirty’) on their bedside, to wake fifteen minutes earlier than their usual time, to write in the dirty notebook for fifteen minutes, and to this every day. Kevin promises that at the end of the year, aspiring memoir writers would have a memoir just like his.
There were interesting class exercises and anecdotes, as I don’t want to ramble on, I am submitting Kevin’s ten rules for memoir writers. Rule one: Never say no to a reasonable request from a fellow writer. Rule two: Dare to be worthy. In other words, find moments in your life and make your life story interesting. Rule three: Write for fifteen minutes at least two pages everyday first thing in the morning. Write anything, do this for 90 days, and read through after 90 days. You will find your memoir somewhere in those pages. Rule four: Leap and a peculiar word would appear. To achieve that, first, write about the oddest moment of your life; second, write about the article of clothing you associate with that moment. Rule five: Keep no secrets. Take a risk.
Rule six: See how the world gives you meaning. Look around you, talk to people who know you. Connect their stories to your life. Rule seven: Jump right in. Start the book with a crisis or the most horrible day of your life. Throughout the book raise the stakes but don’t resolve them until the end of the book. Rule eight: Don’t put lipstick on a pig. Don’t glamorize, always tell the truth whether you win or lose. Here is Kevin’s aid: first, write the saddest moment of your life; second, write the piece of music you associate with that moment. Rule nine: Practice your memoir. Tell the story repeatedly. Rule ten: Chose the truth you like better.
In his parting words, Kevin differentiates between musicians, artists, and writers. He points out that musicians sit under a rock and artists lock themselves in a room. Whereas compared to them, writers socialize. Ah, ha, now I understand why I part of writers groups!
Kevin’s assignment: Write three pages on how you got your tattoo. Or if you don’t have a tattoo, write about your favorite scar.