One Year to a Writing Life – October – Memoir and Mosaic

With all the excitement of NaNoWriMo, I nearly forgot that I hadn’t posted about chapter 10, which I worked with during October, of One Year to a Writing Life. The title of the chapter was Memoir and Mosaic which I found both intriguing and off-putting. Intriguing because… well, mosaics rock. And off-putting because writing a memoir is not something I’ve ever really found that appealing, and honestly find a bit odd for people my age to do (unless you’re terminal or something). I realize as I’m writing this though, that what I actually find off-putting is the idea of writing an autobiography at this age. In Swedish, the two words are used more or less synonymously and to some extent I guess that is true in English too, but some recent googling of mine reveals that, to quote Wikipedia, an autobiography “tells the story of a life while a memoir tells stories from a life”, the latter usually being selected according to some specific theme. With this differentiation in mind, the idea of writing a memoir is suddenly more appealing to me, personally.

The reason why the chapter is called Memoir and Mosaic, is that the author encourages the technique of selecting some scenes or memories along a theme and then arranging them around each other in some pleasing way, much like a mosaic. The exercises in this chapter are more focused on planning and structuring a piece of writing than actually writing it. The first exercise was to write about a “window into your life” that the memoir was supposed to open, and then to pick a frame for this window. I ended up writing, literally, a scene with a window:

Raindrops are cruising down the windows of the bus, and I am crying quietly. It is neither the first or the last time I cry on a bus. I am crying because in my earbuds, there is a radio show with a woman talking about growing up as a geek, as an outsider, as a fantasy-fanatic.

“I’m not into all those kinds of movies myself.” My dad said to me. “But after I heard her talk, I think I understood a bit more why it appeals to you. You should listen to it.”

It took several weeks before I took his advice, and cried happily, quietly in the bus at hearing so much of myself spoken out loud. There is a special beauty in finding someone else who can explain to people how you feel.

The frame I chose was geekiness, loneliness, magic and although the exercise said to write a few lines about it I really didn’t feel the need to beyond those key words. The next exercise was to select what to include in and exclude from your memoir. Although I have no immediate plans of actually writing it, this was the list I made:


Playing with the fairies
Afternoons in the art room
Reading, reading, reading
The pet wolf
Something about Harry Potter?
The tree house, living wild
Running from the fangs that snap at my ankles on the way from the bathroom in the summer house
Dreaming a deity
Telling my stories to someone

Everything else?

Then came the task to select a pattern for these scenes. This could, according to the suggestions, be just about anything: a common theme, a color, a place, a year, etc. And honestly, I couldn’t think of what I’d use. I think I’d have to write the scenes, and perhaps a few more, and scrap a few of them, and then chose how to organize them.

The last exercise was to write a reflective journal entry about writing a memoir. Here were my thoughts:

What’s the memoir that I wish to write? I don’t know that there is one. It’s not something I’ve ever really contemplated doing, certainly not at this age. A collection of memories, maybe. Is that the same as a memoir? I don’t know. I also don’t know if that would be something people would enjoy, if my memories are “readable”. Either way there is something about taking a memory and distilling it, polishing it, crystallizing it. It’s a little like writing poetry, but instead of encapsulating a feeling you do it to a moment from your memory. There are many memories I’ve thought of writing down. Perhaps I should start doing so.

As you can see, I hadn’t quite figured out the difference between memoir and autobiography when I wrote it. I’m still not sure if I’m actually going to write any of these scenes down, but I might. I did write a very short piece about the seventh item on my list of things to include. I’ll add it as a bonus, since the exercises this month were a bit dull:

She leapt in the dark, her small feet finding each stone, root and slope as surely as if it was in the brightest of sunshine. The monsters were at her heels, always at her heels, jaws and claws snapping at thin air where she had been a split second ago. They never caught her, not once. She was never really scared, always knew she could outrun them. It was exhilaration and not fear that made her heart pound and her breath come in gasps the last few steps towards the house. The light by the back steps glowed dimly in the dark, a beacon for her to aim for. A few more leaps across the grass and she was there, on the wooden steps. Hot breath on her neck, but she knew turning would break the spell and hurried to open the door, slinking inside and closing it quickly behind her before the monsters followed her in.

Now I have to get back to my NaNo project. The next chapter, the second to last one, is on RewritingI plan to work on a short story that takes place in the same world as Going Home. It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.


One Reply to “One Year to a Writing Life – October – Memoir and Mosaic”

  1. Pingback: Twice Fortnightly – Full Steam Ahead | Emma Lindhagen

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