Due to my schedule, I was only able to make it to one Woodstock Writers Festival panel this year, and I picked my favorite one the “Memoir a Go-Go” panel, which is moderated by the irreverent and funny Martha Frankel, author and executive director of the Woodstock Writers Festival. This year she had another interesting panel: Woodstock’s own Suzan Saxman author of the “The Reluctant Psychic: a memoir” by Perdita Finn. Christina Haag, author of the bestselling memoir “Come to the Edge: a Love Story,” and Jillian Lauren, author of “Some Girls: My Life in a Harem” and the upcoming “Everything You Ever Wanted” (Plume, May 2015)
Here are a few tips and take-aways from the panel:
1. Don’t stress too much about what your family may think about your memoir. One common fear that all three writers overcame was the fear of “what will my family think” and they had tips for this. Lauren said that one fellow author Suzie Bright told her long ago that whatever reaction your family has to quirky things you do, is the same reaction they will have to your memoir. So if you have a family that has been disappointed with your efforts throughout your life, they will act disappointed in your writing. If your family accepts and supports your work, they will just laugh it off as a “weird book” but support you.
2. Talking about your project at a cocktail party could hamper your writing flow, according to Christina Haag. When she was working on her memoir about her five year transformative relationship with John F. Kennedy, Jr., she found that if she would describe her project during small talk at a party, she would get different reactions from people. After awhile she changed her writing chat. “Either I just wouldn’t talk about it because I would lose a few days of writing. It would ruin my process. It is a love story, and some love stories end sadly. If they would ask what I’m writing, I would say, ‘It’s a novel” or ‘It’s a love story’ and then they would look bored,”said Haag.
3. During the writing process, Haag said it helped to have people you she was writing towards, people who wanted her to write this story. If you have anyone in your present or past that you think would love the work you are doing, then keep them in your mind, and let those readers help you to the finish line.
4. On sharing work. Don’t just show it your spouse. “I have different readers for different drafts. I treasure my readers. It’s a huge imposition to ask someone to do an edit on a whole manuscript,” says Lauren. Haag says she needed to have a period where the work was private, and her readers were not all writers, but they were people who understood story.
5. Make writer friends. Suzan Saxman, author of “The Reluctant Psychic” didn’t set out to write a memoir, but made a friend in Perdita Finn. Over a vegan lunch at The Garden Cafe, Saxman shared bits and pieces of her crazy childhood with her. Saxman recalls,”She said, ‘Are you kidding me? Mind if I tape record this’ and with my words and her genius, it became my memoir.”
If you are looking for a good read, check out these memoirs and more at WoodstockWriters.com