Taking Memoir Writing to the Next Level

For some time now, I’ve been feeling that I’d love to give more in-depth writing workshops. I have given such writing workshops in the past, but I want to make it more of a feature of my work. I want to take a group of enthusiastic writers to the next level. Just over two weeks ago, with the help of just such a group of enthusiastic writers, I achieved that ambition. I gave a memoir-writing workshop which gave the writers the space to create a full-length story and get feedback on it within a few hours. The writers created their magic in this building.

 

Edmund Rice Heritage Centre
The Edmund Rice Heritage Centre, where these stories were created.

 

This story would explore the role of point of view in shaping stories. In other words, the point of view you choose to tell the story from shapes the atmosphere of the story, and changes your view of the characters in it. The writers would tell the story of a small but significant injustice that they experienced when they were young.

We all have them. The time we were promised sweets but never got them. Or we saved up to buy something, only to find that the shopkeeper had sold it on. As a twist, the writers would tell the story from the viewpoint of the character who committed this injustice.

Building the Story

The writers started by brainstorming the small injustices they’d experienced. They came up with a list of three, and then whittled that down to one. They then took the time to get to know the person who committed the injustice by doing a character sketch. This is a profile of a character, where you give details like their name, age, location, family, and secrets about them that no-one else knows, The writers would be aware of some of the details, but could use their imaginations to fill in the gaps.

Every story needs a structure. This story would follow that timeless template: the three-act structure, with a beginning, middle and end. I devised a set of questions based on the three-act structure. Answering these questions would help them gather the facts of the story and put them in order. Once they’d answered those questions, they could then flesh out the facts to make a full-length story.

The Finished Product

The writers ended up with remarkably accomplished first drafts, well structured, with rounded, sympathetic characters. Some of them had not actually written before, but rose to the challenge beautifully. They were also generous in giving feedback to each other. Most of all, they found that they gained a new perspective on events in their lives, and were able to empathise with their former adversaries.

Do you have a small but significant injustice from your childhood that you could mine for stories? Try writing about it from the viewpoint of the other person. You may be surprised at the results.

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My Adventures in Writing Great Content

As we move towards the end of the year, we start to think about the highs and lows that make up our year. For me, one of the professional highs has been my collaboration with a marketing company called How Great Marketing Works. I’m reviewing their marketing programme with a series of blog posts. And I’ve also created a series of posts about how to write great content, called How to Write Great Content.

Strategic Selling

How Great Marketing Works has been created by Finola Howard, whose strategic approach to marketing has shaped my own content-writing strategy. Her whole philosophy is that before you can promote your business, you have to ask yourself some serious questions. You can then use the answers to these questions to help you create a story for your business, and you can then sell to people by telling.

For arty types like me, and I’m sensing many of you who read this blog also fit into this category, the idea of selling makes us really uncomfortable. The How Great Marketing Works approach takes the sting out of selling. If you think of selling in terms of telling a story rather than relentless promotion, it takes the pressure off. And it helps you recognise that you have something valuable to offer, and to find people who will appreciate your creativity and the value of your work.

I created the Five Ws series to help prospective and current users of the How Great Marketing Works programme sell by telling. It’s a series of four blog posts showing people how to write great content. It centres on five central questions we must ask ourselves if we want to write successful content. As these questions all begin with W, I call them the five Ws.

Great Content Image
The five Ws of great content. Image sourced by Finola Howard.

Why: the reason you do what you do in the first place. Remembering this will keep you motivated when your spirits are flagging.

What: We may think we know what we do, but it’s good to pin it down. Think of what you do in terms of how it benefits the people who will buy from you. What is brilliant about your books?

Who: Think of the people who will buy your books. Draw up a profile of them: how old they are, what they like to do in their spare time, what books or articles they like to read.

Where: Identify the best places to reach those people, through social media, websites or offline outlets.

When: How often will you write content? Scheduling your content will ensure you write it consistently and that it won’t fall down the list of priorities.

I then applied the five Ws to the series of four posts. Two of them are available from How Great Marketing Works, and I’ve linked to those. And you can look forward to the other two in the coming weeks.

How to Build a Great Content Writing Strategy: This was an introduction post outlining the five Ws and how to apply them to any content you write.

How to Write Great Media Content: This post shows you how to use the five Ws to create newsworthy press releases that will make journalists sit up and take notice.

How to Write Great Content for Your Website: This post shows you how to fit the five Ws to different pages on your website, so you can get your message across in your web content.

How to Write Blogs That People Will Want to Read: In this post, you’ll use the five Ws to create interesting web content and ensure it reaches the right people at the right time.

I’m delighted Finola Howard has given me this opportunity to write these blog posts. I’ll be clear that this is a professional arrangement, but on a personal level, I’ve found it beneficial. It’s helped me hone my content writing and selling bills, and also more aware of how I run my business. It’s helped me become more professional in my approach to my work. 

Journey Through the Senses Writing Workshop

Recently, I gave one of my favourite types of creative writing workshop, for one of my favourite organisations. The workshop was my Journey Through the Senses beginners’ workshop. And the organisation was Waterford Libraries. I gave the workshop in one of their busiest libraries, in Ardkeen.

Objects of Affection

This workshop uses the senses to trigger emotions and memories, which in turn can lead to ideas for stories. It’s a nice gentle introduction to writing for beginners. After some icebreakers, I distributed some quirky objects I’ve picked up along my travels: a ladybird whose wings open to reveal a watch, a jade stone, a wooden perfume bottle from Bulgaria.

The participants then wrote the life stories of these objects.  They used the feel and the look of the objects to help them imagine what those lives might have been, what adventures they had and how they came to be there. Some people didn’t like the objects they were given, but I told them that sensations you don’t like can provide just as much inspiration for writing as beautiful ones. The important thing is to evoke a strong reaction.

A Taste of Oranges

We then moved on to one of my favourite exercises, which I’ve written about on this blog before, A Taste of Oranges. Oranges challenge all five of the senses, and people have to let go of their inhibitions about eating such a messy fruit in front of other people. The participants had to describe the oranges using all five of their senses (this orange looks/this orange feels). Eating the orange was an optional extra.

Oranges
Oranges work all of a writer’s senses.

Once the senses are triggered, I like to expand the activity. After they’d worked their senses with the oranges, I asked the participants to write about a meal that was memorable for a particular reason, which triggered some hilarious and poignant tales.

Musical Moments

I decided to do this activity on a whim, as I don’t normally do it, even though music is integral to my own writing practise. When you do activities, you don’t know which ones will work out. The other activities had gone smoothly, but I was still waiting for that ‘foom’ moment when the group takes off. It came with this activity.

I played a piece of music (Apache by The Shadows), and the participants had to write the names of a person, a colour and a place that the music made them think of. They then wove those three words into a short story. The resulting stories took us on voyages to different parts of the world, and prompted lots of lively reminiscences.

How do you incorporate the senses in your writing? Are you drawn to beautiful sensations, or to more troubling ones? If you’re a workshop facilitator, do you do activities based on the senses?