I Sacked My Writing Coach!

I should warn you. What follows is disgruntled, self-pitying and inspired by an inability to actually confront my increasingly vexing NaNoWriMo project…

I am reminded of the lyrics of The Sunscreen Song, that novelty record ostensibly by Baz Luhrmann, with words taken from Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich:

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

And then there’s Merlin Mann’s advice about advice as it relates to NaNoWriMo:

And, the warning? Don’t read too many blog posts like this.

The hounds are out this month, guys, and they smell your fear and self-doubt. So, shovelbloggers will be offering you a tantalizing Vegas-style buffet of endless writing “help” that will range from the indispensable to the stupid to the unconscionably poisonous. And, smile though they might, those folks could care less if all those page views end up killing your word count or distracting you at the one delicate moment you were about to figure out your troubled third act. Their job is to make you stop working. Don’t let them. Okay?

I am an exceedingly awful writer, truth be told. NaNoWriMo has made me realise this. Not because I lack ideas, not because I can’t string a sentence together. But because I really don’t like ‘showing up.’ I like writing blog posts. I find something quite wonderous about them. I’ll start with a vague idea and somehow by the end of it, almost despite myself, I will have arrived at the end of that thought process, I will know what I now think, I will have expressed it and actually the prose itself isn’t too bad either. But for one reason or another, NaNoWriMo has been a grating experience. I secretly want to punch the next teenager who remarks on how much ‘fun’ it is.

Yes, I have next to no willpower. I’m not having fun. So ocassionally I will seek encouragement from various sources… But advice, as Mann and Schmich have observed, isn’t always helpful. You could imagine the solace (or lackthereof) I received when I went looking for encouragement to continue with my memoir project and came into contact with this from Jurgen Wolff:

The one area I would warn most people away from is the memoir. Unless you have been in the public eye or have a truly remarkable experience to relate, it is difficult to interest people outside of your immediate family in your life story (sometimes it’s even hard to interest people inside your family…) Of course, you have the option of self-publishing such a work and distributing it to friends and relatives.

This wonderful quote is from a book titled, “Your Writing Coach: From Concept To Character, From Pitch To Publication.” The tag line of this book is: “Everything you need to know about writing novels, non-fiction, new media, scripts and short stories.”

I guess when it comes to writing memoir everything you need to know is essentially ‘don’t bother.’

But Wolff taps into a much greater anti-memoir sentiment that I have noticed elsewhere and often. I’ve observed it in writing podcasts where hosts tell the memoirist that their work “… is a memoir but it has the devices and language of fiction” as if that made up for the fact that the author dared to write from their own experience. [So widely shared is this belief that authors have taken to calling their works ‘creative non-fiction’ to try to combat it.] There was also a suggestion that there should be “more novels, less memoirs” because “if you’re working in fiction, good for you, because as far as I’m concerned that’s how to get the truth.”

I get it people. Fiction is the order of the day, and Twilight and Harry Potter the centre of the universe. That’s fine. [I’ve not read either, though looking at the Twilight movie posters I can’t help but think shirtless men – vampiric or otherwise – probably do speak to great life truths. Erm, somehow.] Kudos to everyone whose passions revolve around those things – no, really. I am very happy for you. But lived experience is what interests me. And actually there’s a really good chance I will never finish this memoir, there’s a good chance I will not make 50,000 words by the end of this month. There’s a good chance this will never be published, that it will never see the light of day. So, you know, you won’t have to read it. You probably won’t even have the opportunity to read it. And in the meanwhile it keeps me off the streets and from J-walking or loitering or something…

3 comments… add one
  • Take heart John, in the old days, writers used to write was often referred to as “thinly veiled autobiography” and call it fiction. Memoir, novel, these are marketing terms, and while it’s important to pay attention to the market, you’re right to write what’s in your heart. BTW I am putting down the novel I’ve been reading to go to the bookstore and buy Mary Karr’s new memoir.

  • Hi John, I think it’s only fair to warn people that publishers are very resistant to this genre but of course there are always exceptions and I believe that if you really are driven to write something, that’s what you must do. I follow that philosophy myself–I’ve just finished writing a satirical novel and if there’s any genre that’s harder to place with a publisher than a memoir, it’s a satirical novel! Good luck with your project.

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