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dclary
08-14-2007, 09:56 PM
Can someone give me a quick summary of what constitutes LSW? Is it simply blogging? Journaling? Specifically biographies, or slice-of-life pieces?

Any assistance would be appreciated.

Shwebb
08-14-2007, 10:10 PM
Hey, Dave!

Glad you asked, because that's the question that's running through my head.

For me, LSW can be essay, slice-of-life, memoir--all those things.

Journaling, for me, isn't necessarily life story writing, IMO. The difference being that journaling is done for catharsis or for recording events, and it's usually meant for the writer's eyes only. Life story writing is written with an audience in mind.

Not saying that journaling can't turn something into a work meant for others; I imagine it would. (And it has, for me.) But it's still something worthy of discussion, here.

Biographies, for me, are also life story writing. They're about someone's life, after all, right?

I consider David Sedaris' stuff to be life story writing, but he's considered more of a humorist. It depends on what sort of spin you put on your work, I guess.

Anyone else have any ideas, or care to disagree?

KTC
08-14-2007, 10:31 PM
I do life story writing also...and though I have been working on my 80s memoir on and off for several years, I also write life story essays that I would feel relevant to this forum. I publish them either as spoken word on the radio or in newspapers as first person accounts. They're almost like snippets out of my memoirs...but full and complete on their own.

KTC
08-14-2007, 10:33 PM
I consider David Sedaris' stuff to be life story writing, but he's considered more of a humorist. It depends on what sort of spin you put on your work, I guess.

Exactly...I write humorous life story pieces myself...very much like Sedaris' stuff...but, both sadly and obviously, I'm nowhere near as successful.

awatkins
08-14-2007, 10:38 PM
I've done this sort of writing for years, and for a number of publications. I do find it to be cathartic in a way--once I've finished something and it's published, it helps me put closure to whatever things I've chosen to share. But the things I write about are things that can strike a chord with any reader--for the essays to be successful, they need to be stories that folks can connect with. That's my take on it, anyway.

Just as an aside: I keep detailed notes in day planners (for example--need to know what was going on in my life on June 6, 1982? Give me a minute and I can dig it up).

dclary
08-14-2007, 11:11 PM
I've done this sort of writing for years, and for a number of publications. I do find it to be cathartic in a way--once I've finished something and it's published, it helps me put closure to whatever things I've chosen to share. But the things I write about are things that can strike a chord with any reader--for the essays to be successful, they need to be stories that folks can connect with. That's my take on it, anyway.

Just as an aside: I keep detailed notes in day planners (for example--need to know what was going on in my life on June 6, 1982? Give me a minute and I can dig it up).

Just to keep you honest... Yes. Yes, I would like to know what you were doing on June 6, 1982.

awatkins
08-14-2007, 11:38 PM
Just to keep you honest... Yes. Yes, I would like to know what you were doing on June 6, 1982.

I was celebrating surviving my first year as an insulin-dependent diabetic. :)

dobiwon
08-14-2007, 11:41 PM
I've thought of doing this, so I catagorized my life and came up with statistics that discouraged me from continuing:

Things I've done were:
boring (57%)
too embarrassing to write about (27%)
not embarrassing enought to be interesting (0.5%)
a figment of my imagination (15.5%)

Shwebb
08-14-2007, 11:49 PM
Don, you bring up a good issue about life story writing.


“My life has been boring. Nothing ever happens.” Not true, IMO. Everyone has interesting stories to tell. Or stories you can make interesting. Greeting your dog every day when you come home from work can actually make a compelling short story, or even a theme you attach to a longer story. Depends on how you write it, don't you think?

Shwebb
08-15-2007, 12:37 AM
Okay, I have to admit I've also heard what should have been the most fascinating story be turned into a monotonous piece of crap by some people.

Another preconception I've run into in talking to people is that writing life stories means one has to delve into his/her "crappy stuff." Granted, that can make for compelling stories (you wouldn't believe some of my own, to be honest) but why can't we write about the good stuff?

The challenge of writing about the good stuff is that you have to find a place to put in some sort of tension or drama, right? What is it that drives the story?

Which makes me wonder what others' ideas are on that one.

Can we make a compelling story out of happy memories? What would that take, do you think?

dobiwon
08-15-2007, 12:40 AM
Don, you bring up a good issue about life story writing.


“My life has been boring. Nothing ever happens.” Not true, IMO. Everyone has interesting stories to tell. Or stories you can make interesting. Greeting your dog every day when you come home from work can actually make a compelling short story, or even a theme you attach to a longer story. Depends on how you write it, don't you think?
I completely agree. My post was a lame attempt at humor. Actually, everything I've ever written has at least some of me in it.

KTC
08-15-2007, 12:42 AM
An even better issue Don has brought up is the TOO EMBARRASSING TO WRITE ABOUT one. Those are the ones I dig into. Those are the ones that have sold most successfully for me. I had one air on CBC Radio that SO painted me as the asshole. You get over the hangup of painting yourself into embarrassing situations (Oh my god! What will they think) and you will find yourself slipping more comfortably into the zone you need to be in to write memoir and life story.

awatkins
08-15-2007, 12:50 AM
Okay, here's an ordinary incident that turned into a Chicken Soup publication, with later republication in a parenting magazine: Got my driver's license renewed and was totally horrified by my picture. Previous picture--blonde hair, smooth skin. Fast forward four years--gray hair, crow's feet (must have been a rough four years). Then my grandson was born and my daughter said that he crinkled up his eyes when he smiled just like I do. I took that and ran with it, turning the experience into something positive, something that helped me accept my life changes instead of fussing over the gray hair and wrinkles.

Okay, it reads better in the book, but you get the idea. :D Everyone changes as they age. How we deal with it is what makes it acceptable, or something that wrecks us. I tried to write it up in a way that people can identify with.

If you want to read the story, it's the sample story in the book. Look for it on Amazon.com if you want to see. Book title is Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrates Grandmothers.

Susan B
08-15-2007, 01:48 AM
The challenge of writing about the good stuff is that you have to find a place to put in some sort of tension or drama, right? What is it that drives the story?

Which makes me wonder what others' ideas are on that one.

Can we make a compelling story out of happy memories? What would that take, do you think?

Good questions, Shwebb! Here are my thoughts:

I think it's important to identify one's reasons for writing:

--personal reasons (satisfaction, catharsis, personal growth)
--writing for a limited but appreciative audience (family/small community)
--writing for mainstream publication.

I think it is worthwhile and honorable to write for reasons #1 and #2. It's certainly what drove me, when I started writing what eventually became a book. And everyone's life can be a source of wonderful stories, especially if they are well written.

But if you are writing for publication, especially in the current climate--well, then you do get into the difficult questions that agents/editors/publishers will ask. What is so unique or special about your experiences? What is your "platform"? The basis of your expertise? Why will readers pay to read about your life?

It's not that life events have to be traumatic, but having enough dramatic tension to drive the story--that's the problem. At least with the lives most of us lead :-)

It was in part because of these issues with my first book that I'm now experimenting with writing fiction instead of another memoir.

Thanks for stimulating discussion!

Susan

johnrobison
08-15-2007, 04:50 PM
I don't know that life stories always need dramatic tension. Actually, I'm not always sure what some of these writerly terms mean.

Anyway, many times people write about their own lives to illustrate some point outside of themselves . . . how to get rich, how to overcome a handicap, or how to put together a racing team.

So I think there are several kinds of life story writing that can find wide readership:

1) There is a market for biography and autobiography of famous people. We want to know what college they attended and where they met their first wife. An example would be William Manchester's "American Ceasar."

This kind of book is only published when it's about someone famous. But many family histories follow this pattern, and even if they do not speak to the broad public, they are valuable to extended families of hundred and sometimes thousands of people.

2) There is also a market for stories about a person's life that are so shocking they catch your attention. My brother's book "Running With Scissors" is an example of that.

You don't have to be famous to write a book like that, but you need to have experienced something unique and you need the ability to tell the story in a compelling way. I think this kind of story is where the "dramatic tension" comes in.

3) You can write your life story as a way to teach readers about something else. "Rich Dad Poor Dad" is a good example. Rather that tell readers what to do to become succesful, he relates his own story and people read it and say, "I could do that, too!"

4) You can write a story about a mundane or common aspect of your life, but write it in such a compelling or beautiful manner, that readers will be drawn in and enthralled. Joan Didion's book on Migraines is an example.

This type of story sounds like it's the hardest to write, but really, for any of the life stories above to succeed for a large audience they must be compellingly written.

* * *

Questions of journaling, diaries, and styles or writing . . . those things have no bearing on what kind of story it is. They do, obviously, have a bearing on how readable or interesting the finished product will be but that is more a matter of the writer's skill than the way it's written.

Susan B
08-15-2007, 06:17 PM
I agree with what John has written above. Life stories about famous people or events in the news, as well as "shocking" personal stories do provide good material, no question about that.

But Shwebb's question, I thought, was basically "what about the rest of us?" Or, as she asked, can you write about happy memories? Or at least experiences that aren't inherently dramatic. Reminisce about growing up in the fifties in the Midwest? Or about taking up ballet in your forties? Caring for your terminally ill mother? Or your experience with migraines, if you aren't a prominent writer like Joan Didion?

I think it is meaningful to write such stories. And I also like to read them. I don't need lots of "drama" for a book to be satisfying--just good writing and a narrator I'd like to get to know. But I do believe, especially in the current publishing climate, it can be particularly challenging to find a "major publisher" to take on a memoir of this kind, if it's by an unknown writer. Not impossible, just challenging.

So if someone embarks on a project like this with the goal of publication by a "big house" it just makes sense to be aware.

(It wouldn't have deterred me, as I said. Publication wasn't my goal in writing what became my book. Now, of course, I am anxiously waiting and obsessively checking e-mails. But if it doesn't work out, well, no regrets at all. Just major disappointment :-)

My thoughts, anyhow.

I wonder what others think. We'd had some lively discusssion about this in the recent past. Sakamonda...?

Susan

johnrobison
08-15-2007, 06:30 PM
I agree with what John has written above. Life stories about famous people or events in the news, as well as "shocking" personal stories do provide good material, no question about that.

But Shwebb's question, I thought, was basically "what about the rest of us?" Or, as she asked, can you write about happy memories? Or at least experiences that aren't inherently dramatic. Reminisce about growing up in the fifties in the Midwest? Or about taking up ballet in your forties? Caring for your terminally ill mother? Or your experience with migraines, if you aren't a prominent writer like Joan Didion?



Well, Haven Kimmel was an unknown writer who produced a story of growing up happy in a small town, and it was a big hit.

Everyone has the potential for telling a unique story but the necessary convergence of ideas, circumstance, and talent is rare. And that's what's needed for a story with broad market appeal.

pollykahl
08-15-2007, 06:56 PM
To add to John's categories, sometimes we read life stories to see what it would be like to experience something we'll never experience. I read a book by a guy who forged signatures on artwork, and sold it on eBay for multi-thousands of dollars, then got busted and went to prison. And I considered it worthwhile reading, even though IMO it wasn't well-written, because now my curiosity is satisfied about that experience. (What a relief to my husband, that I will now never have to actually forge fine art, just to see what it would be like.)

Susan B
08-15-2007, 07:20 PM
To add to John's categories, sometimes we read life stories to see what it would be like to experience something we'll never experience. I read a book by a guy who forged signatures on artwork, and sold it on eBay for multi-thousands of dollars, then got busted and went to prison. And I considered it worthwhile reading, even though IMO it wasn't well-written, because now my curiosity is satisfied about that experience. (What a relief to my husband, that I will now never have to actually forge fine art, just to see what it would be like.)

Now that's a cautionary tale--and a pretty dramatic one :-)

Susan B
08-15-2007, 07:36 PM
Everyone has the potential for telling a unique story but the necessary convergence of ideas, circumstance, and talent is rare. And that's what's needed for a story with broad market appeal.

I'd say that pretty well sums it up!

I supposed some mathematical genius could figure out an equation to predict the likelihood of successful publication. Well, maybe not :-) But it does give you a way of thinking about the relative balance of the component parts that contribute to it.

x= appeal of the fundamental idea/story (topical, dramatic, etc)
y= how well it's written
z=other circumstances (fame, connections, luck)
P= successful publication

a(X) + b(Y) + c (Z) = P

Like the two examples mentioned. Haven Kimmel wasn't famous, didn't tell a shocking or dramatic story, but wrote beautifully. The art forger Pollykahl describes apparently didn't write so well, but he had a dramatic story and he was (in)famous.

(Amazing what we do to avoid our writing...back to work!)

Susan

dclary
08-16-2007, 12:19 AM
Okay, I have to admit I've also heard what should have been the most fascinating story be turned into a monotonous piece of crap by some people.

Another preconception I've run into in talking to people is that writing life stories means one has to delve into his/her "crappy stuff." Granted, that can make for compelling stories (you wouldn't believe some of my own, to be honest) but why can't we write about the good stuff?

The challenge of writing about the good stuff is that you have to find a place to put in some sort of tension or drama, right? What is it that drives the story?

Which makes me wonder what others' ideas are on that one.

Can we make a compelling story out of happy memories? What would that take, do you think?

See, this is a big part of my problem, I guess. Everyone in my family knows I'm a writer, so I get (all the time) something like "You should go ask uncle ernie about the time he was in Albania and he pooped in a panzer tank. That would make a good story."

Well, ok, maybe that one WOULD make a good story, but you know what I mean. A *lot* of life's best stories are important or meaningful only to the people they happened to. There's a ton of stuff that truly can only be described with the "you had to be there" addendum. Or, while maybe being a series of events, doesn't really have the drama or gravitas necessary to actually be a story.

Or am I being too critical of the form?

Shwebb
08-16-2007, 07:39 AM
There's so much that one can do with voice, though, with life story writing.


A great example for me is Angela's Ashes. It is told with that child's voice, and it's so different and compelling, and the voice itself adds dramatic tension, for me. I think we can play a bit with details in LSW, as well. As long as the basic story is true.

kellytijer
08-16-2007, 08:10 AM
See, this is a big part of my problem, I guess. Everyone in my family knows I'm a writer, so I get (all the time) something like "You should go ask uncle ernie about the time he was in Albania and he pooped in a panzer tank. That would make a good story."

Well, ok, maybe that one WOULD make a good story, but you know what I mean. A *lot* of life's best stories are important or meaningful only to the people they happened to. There's a ton of stuff that truly can only be described with the "you had to be there" addendum. Or, while maybe being a series of events, doesn't really have the drama or gravitas necessary to actually be a story.

Or am I being too critical of the form?

so, dclary, now I have to know. What happened after uncle ernie pooped in the panzer tank in Albania?

Shwebb
08-16-2007, 04:14 PM
:ROFL:
I have a feeling that if Dclary wrote that story, he'd end up sitting on Oprah's sofa and having a lot to answer for!

dclary
08-16-2007, 05:53 PM
:ROFL:
I have a feeling that if Dclary wrote that story, he'd end up sitting on Oprah's sofa and having a lot to answer for!

:gone:

Sakamonda
08-16-2007, 06:37 PM
If you are talking about people writing about their own lives (as opposed to biographies of famous persons written by others) I think there are two major kinds of life story writing----the kind of writing which is personal/private and not meant to be read by others (diaries, journals, etc), and writing about your life for public consumption. That can entail anything from memoir to humorous essay to vignettes. The key to writing about your life for public consumption is to have a compelling story told in a compelling way---and that can mean just about anything. It requires a magic mixture of talent, good storytelling, language, and that unnamable quality of "marketability"---i.e., it needs to be something that a person who has never met you before (and perhaps never will) would still want to read.

I don't think there's any one way to describe "life story writing", but when it's done well, it's often some of the best writing out there.