Still Here: A 20 Minute Writing Experiment

It’s been awhile. However I am still here. Still with aspirations of finishing my memoir and still struggling living with brain injury. I have decided I wanted to try something a little different for this blog. I just want to write and get some words on the page (because I find writing so healing). So I am setting a timer for 20 minutes and just writing whatever comes to mind. So buckle in… The 20 minutes start NOW.

An Image I created in Canva.

I have been reading a lot of memoir and nonfiction since I have decided that I NEED to write my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) story. What makes a good memoir? For me as a reader it’s either 1) a writer who is sharing a story so very DIFFERENT from mine or 2) a writer who is sharing a story very SIMILAR to mine. I started a book club for my local Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) chapter and I have been enjoying every second of organizing it, researching books, choosing books and lining up authors for our small group discussions. In having this book club I have inadvertently created a memoir Masterclass for myself. Each time we have an author join us I usually reveal that I am myself writing my story. The authors have all been supportive and encouraging and it has really helped give me the boost of confidence that I need at times (who are we kidding… writing anything, especially your own experience is a confidence drainer). However, I was afraid I was becoming a memoir snob. As in, “that isn’t very high brow writing <eye roll>.” And the last thing I want to be as a memoir writer is a snob!

Recently my group read a book that was really a “celebrity autobiography” that was co-written by someone else. I found myself rolling my eyes at the poor sentence structure and grammar but all my hours of reading memoir has made me focus on more than sentence structure. It wasn’t until we had the book club (we meet on Zoom and usually read books about hearing loss, deafness or disability) that I felt better about my reaction to the book. The others in the group felt much the same way: that the book was missing something. It wasn’t until I listened to the others that I could really articulate what was missing: self reflection. I think because this person is a known person who has lived their life in the spotlight they probably got asked to tell their story in this book. And they did. Yet it was more full of recording sequential events than reacting or reflecting on anything. I wasn’t used to that. I have less motivation as a reader to find out the ins and outs of someone’s career than I have motivation to find out what they thought and felt at the time and what they think and feel now. I have purposely not said what the book was and who it was by simply because I think it was a fine book for what it was: a “celebrity autobiography.” However in reading it I was able to tell myself that my memoir is certainly going to be different (in part because people don’t know WHO I am and will instead be reading it to find out about a SITUATION and not really about ME). Yet as book club ended I wondered if my reaction to the book was still snobbish. It was a worry for me… I don’t wanna be a snob! (A snob would NEVER say “wanna” so I CAN’T be one… right?)

Not to worry, obsessive little writer/reader Laura… you’re not a snob. You however are on your way to becoming knowledgeable in how to write a compelling story. Malcolm Gladwell (in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success”) has written about how he believes the key to becoming an “expert” in anything is 10,000 hours of repeated practice. I haven’t spent 10,000 hours writing my memoir (or at least I hope not), but I have spent nearly 10,000 hours learning about memoir. Therefore I may not be an expert but I do know what makes a compelling personal story for your reader: reflection and emotional intent. For every event that I write about I intend to have a reflection on it in someway. And, if I have introduced an emotion, I really feel like it needs to be reflected on within the memoir. It’s like I just came up with the memoir writing version of Chekov’s Gun (A writing principle by Russian playwright Anton Chekov that deems that every element in a story must be necessary. So if you introduce a gun into the story it must be fired at some point). In my memoir version of Chekov’s Gun it’s instead “Laura’s Tears” (this is my description of how all emotions introduced in a memoir must be reviewed and reflected on). The irony of calling this “Laura’s Tears” is that my TBI has made it pretty difficult for me to cry (but that doesn’t mean I can’t shed a metaphorical tear over memoir writing)!

So, am I a writing snob? I hope my little timed writing experiment has proven that I’m not. The book club book that I read and decided wasn’t the kind of story I want to tell (or really can tell, because people will be less interested in ME and more interested in what happened TO ME) taught me something about writing about yourself and how I want to proceed in writing my memoir.

NOTE: pre-TBI Laura used to write 20 page research papers on her lunch break (ugh, horrible) and now post-TBI me just wrote this pretty short blog in 20 minutes. I am trying not to compare the 2 Lauras and just be happy with the words on the page. Even though it may take me longer to put words on the page I am still incredibly grateful that I can still write at the same quality that I did before the brain injury.

An Image I created in Canva.

A Selby Sweetie Conclusion

It’s snow eating season for Selby (she gets obsessed with eating it and eats it until she shivers)!! 🥶

3 thoughts on “Still Here: A 20 Minute Writing Experiment

  1. I think this is pretty darn good for 20 minutes, Laura! And you’ve learned an awful lot about memoir. None of your time reading, writing, thinking about about what you’ve read and what you intend to write is wasted. It’s all time well spent. I’m glad to hear you’re hanging in there.

    Liked by 1 person

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