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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Reading For Craft

I Could Tell You Stories


“We store in memory only images of value.”

Memoir is one of the most poignant forms of storytelling and so akin to a novel that both have been mistaken for each other at times. Reading and studying memoirs offers a banquet of human experience. Where to start? Where to recommend? With a bookcase overflowing with excellent memoirs and how to write memoirs, I felt that choosing only one book would be impossible.

Then I realized that whenever anyone asks me about writing a memoir, or in the workshops I teach, this is the first book I hand them—literally. Hampl shares the quality of memoirs by telling stories with rich meaning. It’s the perfect place to start craft whether for memoir or fiction writing. Our personal stories within our circle of family and friends will be enriched and our fictional characters more multi-layered.

In her study, I Could Tell You Stories, Patricia Hampl notes that memoir is a landscape bordered by memory and imagination. “For to remember is to make a pledge: to the indelible experience of personal perception, and to history itself.”

As Hampl explores the realm of memory she points out that both Kafka and Rilke saw memory, “not experience”, as holding the sovereign position in imagination.

For herself Hampl discovered: “The recognition of one’s genuine material seems to involve a fall from the phony grace of good intentions and elevated expectations.” What a fresh perspective on motives.

Although she shares specifically via the route of memoir, this door of recognition applies to all forms of writing. If we are unable to infuse our memories, or perhaps our search for our memories into our work then we rob it of honest quest and discovery and an imagination that connects. Each person’s voice is unique and bears witness to life. But in order to share, we first need to identify what really matters to us so we can build our stories, real and imagined, with genuine impact of heart.

“How did I come to believe that what I knew was also what mattered? And, more to the point for the future, is it what matters?”

Share: What is your favorite memoir?

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