This whole writing a book thing is totally new to me. Most of my writing in the past, consisted of e-mails, facebook posts, text messages, and a few “academic” essays and reports. I’m learning day by day that writing a memoir requires a totally different style.
When I first tackled this project, I did what I do best. I researched. One thing I can safely say about University is that it taught me how to find answers. Being an active member of my local public library, I looked up “How To Write” books, of which there is a whole section! I also took out other people’s memoirs, which I planned to use as examples of what I hope to eventually complete. Like an art student who first learns to draw by looking at paintings done by famous artists, I too am learning from the literary masters.
If you try to teach yourself how to write, you will find that one of the most important things, besides grammar and spelling maybe, is your voice. This is something I’m trying to find. Depending on what I’m writing, my voice, or style of writing, changes. It also might alter depending on who I’m reading at the time. For example, after finishing Douglas Adams’, Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I had the urge to write something funny, quick, and ludicrous. To be genuine, I need to develop my own style.
The first memoir I tackled (and recently finished) since I started writing my own is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I realize I’m a little late to join the “I Love Eat, Pray, Love!” bandwagon. It’s true that I saw the movie first. It’s also true that I fell in love with Javier Bardem, hard, but still, I didn’t read the book. This is most likely because I just wasn’t reading anything back then. I was also afraid that the book would be too Chicken Soup for the Soul, which I was a little turned off by. (I realize now that my decision was a little short sighted).
Eventually, I read the book because Paula Balzer, author of Writing and Selling Your Memoir told me to. Well she didn’t actually personally tell me, but in her book, among a long list of must read memoirs, she named Eat, Pray, Love. I found this book to be delightful, confusing but enlightening, troubling, and inspirational. Obviously I’m not alone in my view since the book did sell something like a gajillion copies!
My year abroad brought on new discoveries about myself. The first thing I found was that I LOVE TO READ! The second thing was that I LOVE TO WRITE. I also found out that I am interested in spirituality, meditation, and yoga. I adore food, which is something I’ve known for a long time, and traveling is pretty much the best thing in the world for me. I also LOVE LOVE! Does any of this sound familiar?
It’s true I am not recovering from a divorce, do not live in New York City (I did live in NJ though!), and am not a professional writer. I have never been to the three Is (Italy, India, and Indonesia) except for a day in Milan. However, I found many similarities between our adventures. Gilbert’s experiences were an amplification of my own travels in Asia and I ended up studying the book as much as I was reading it for enjoyment.
Beyond developing my craft, Gilbert cleared up some big questions I had about people and religion. She also made me want to go to Italy and eat my face off, but I don’t think that’s the main point of her book. Although she seems to be much more religious than I am, her description of searching for God is very similar to my own search for what I call “Truth”. While I am not religious in a scriptural sense, I came to the understanding that my own spiritual journey over the last year parallels Gilbert’s, only less intense.
In Mongolia, for example, my husband and I took meditation classes. Our “guru” was an Australian nun named Thubten who, in the most beautiful and clear way, educated us on how to be mindful. As described in another one of my posts, she spoke of black smoke, or negative, harmful emotions, and white light, or positive, helpful emotions. She taught us how to fill ourselves with the white light and push out the black spoke. She spoke about compassion and love. She gave me the understanding that to live a healthy and happy lifestyle, I must seek Truth and meaning. I need to be comfortable with my emotions and thoughts. I must seek out the wise, peaceful me that sits patiently in the corner while the crazy chatty me runs around stealing the show. In other words, I need to just chill out.
From a technical standpoint, I found Gilbert’s writing style exciting and clear. She is very personal and emotional but not in a whiny way. Her description was also good enough for me to visualize the people with who she interacted or the food that she ate but didn’t go on too long so that I felt bored. I also liked how she spoke to the readers. For example, instead of narrating the book from an outside disconnected observer, she allowed you to enter her mind and heart. She moved me.
In my own writing, I am still having trouble easing up a bit and shaking those stiff academic sentence structures. I’m trying to open up, which besides making for a more interesting book, is proving to be quite therapeutic. In a way, writing this book is a form a meditation. Importantly, through my literary reflections, I am getting closer and closer to finding Truth.