Mary Lynn Archibald is a freelance copywriter, editor and author of two memoirs: Briarhopper, (a woman’s odyssey from Kentucky’s coal country to California in1945 at the end of World War II); and Accidental Cowgirl: Six Cows, No Horse and No Clue, a cautionary tale about the rigors of country living and cattle ranching. “With one stroke of the pen, we became the proud owners of six cows, two cats and a flock of wild turkeys.”
Photo Courtesy of Ksenia Makagonova
Let’s Face It, It’s Winter!
You are writing away, working on your memoir (of course you are—it’s warmer inside than outside now, after all, so no excuses).
Great. But right now, I have some cautionary advice for you: tips excerpted from an article I wrote for a Mac magazine years ago, but now more relevant than ever, so before you write another word, read this:
What To Do When Your Computer Bites the Hand That Feeds It
Photo Courtesy of Kevin Bhagat
So there you are, happily processing words on your computer, when suddenly you feel a shooting pain in (pick one) your fingers; your thumb; your wrist; your elbow; your entire hand or all of the above.
“Ow!” you say, aggrieved.
And (here is the bad news), this is only the beginning. Why, you ask? Because, my friend, you are very likely now afflicted with RSI (repetitive strain injury), a malady that is increasingly common among desk jockeys, slippery to diagnose, and a whole lot easier to avoid than cure.
It happens to the best of us, but if it hasn’t yet, don’t let it happen to you.
If it does, you will in short order find yourself shopping for painkillers, anti-inflammatories, splints, ice packs, and a good physical therapist. Or worse, a great surgeon, a competent attorney, and perhaps even voice-recognition software; that is if you plan to keep your job after lengthy recovery. If you’re a self-employed writer like me, you’ve got different problems: no sick leave, no income, etcetera.
RSI includes, but is not limited to, the better known carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS. RSI is a more inclusive term, which covers such old favorites as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and anything else that hurts (or goes numb) between your neck and the tips of your fingers.
What to do? Glad you asked. You can do any or all of a staggering number of things, some unique combination of which may help you. The first and most important, of course, is the one your mother was always harping on: sit up straight!
Proper posture at the keyboard requires and ergonomically correct chair, adjusted to the proper height so that your thighs are horizontal, keyboard placed so that you can keep your hands in as close to neutral position as possible, i.e., forearms and hands at right angles to your body, with your elbows neither rotated out nor in—though there is controversy about this.
Please do not hyper-extend your fingers. Keep your monitor at eye level and dead ahead, and perhaps treat yourself to a nice adjustable footrest. Otherwise, feet should both be flat on the floor. Do NOT cross your legs when you type (no need to, unless that hunk from Marketing happens by).
Like any athletic pursuit, using a keyboard requires warm-up exercises such as neck and shoulder rolls and hand and arm stretches to promote flexibility. Once you have injured yourself however, you may need to have a set of more injury-specific exercises prescribed for you by a physical therapist.
It’s not generally recommended to type while wearing wrist splints. In fact, if your injury is acute, you may not even be able to go near your keyboard for anywhere from three weeks to three months.
Some people manage to injure themselves so badly they can never type again, period. Both the severity and type of injury will determine this. Often, the “cure”—if you can call it that—is to stop using your hands altogether.
If you are like me, you settle for long periods away from what you love most (in my case, writing and gardening), followed by faithful exercise, icing of the affected parts, and frequent rest breaks. And of course, a certain amount of chronic pain.
I consider myself fortunate. In the acute stage, I suffered agony and difficulty in my struggle to do the things most of us take for granted: buttoning buttons; brushing teeth or hair; reaching; opening doors, pushing or pulling heavy objects.
Now at least, I can type for five or ten minutes at a time. And button buttons! So there’s hope, if you catch your problem soon. Don’t take it for granted. This is serious stuff, folks.
And me? I just finished my third memoir. And you should see my garden!
…to be continued.
So You Want To Write A Memoir?
Do you remember rag curls? If you do, you’re probably giving away your age. Never mind my age. You can sort of guess by the picture and the time frame. Tell me about yours, won’t you?
You’ve come to the right place. Each week I give you tips and resources to explore so you can do just that! Sip and savor the clues along the way in this virtual Wine Country blog.
Check out previous posts on how to begin your memoir or family history, and let me know how you are coming along, and also please leave suggestions about how I can help you with your project. I’m on my third memoir now, and I always believe that one can not only learn by doing, but also from one’s own mistakes and the suggestions of others, so let’s collaborate!
And Speaking of Collaborating…
Once you take the plunge and have a few chapters to your name, why not get wet all the way and join a critique group? There’s nothing like one to keep you writing.
- by word-of-mouth
- locally (sometimes in newspaper ads)
- through your writers’ group (you DO belong to a writers’ group, don’t you?)
Good Excuse Department:
By the way, sorry about being tardy with this one blog post, but I was very involved with packing to evacuate. We were on standby to do just that! You see, we were in an area between two major Northern California fires last week: the Tubbs fire (Santa Rosa) and the Pocket fire (Geyserville). That kept us pretty busy, checking Cal Fire and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department to see if we were next to have to leave.
Can you say nerve-racking? It was, for sure, but we were some of the lucky ones and did not lose our house. So now it falls to us to find things to give to those who lost everything, and that will be our focus for the next several weeks.
It was terrifying that’s for sure, and we’ve never been quite so close to having to leave our home. It will take a long time for Sonoma County to heal from the terrific nightmare of the wildfires, but it will. Please pray for those who were not so fortunate as we were.
Talk next week. I look forward to it!
Well, I hope you saw my last TV performance (or maybe I hope you didn’t—I’ve got a lot to learn about TV appearances. I seem to look half-drunk, or as though I’m on the deck of a rolling ship).
Anyway, if you didn’t, both the interview and a nice 30-second spot they produced for me will be up soon.
Meanwhile, what I said, in a nutshell, was that if you want to begin a memoir, it is okay to use a tape recorder, notes, anecdotes and even a mind map, which I mentioned in my last post. The most important tip? As I’ve said before: Just begin. If you’re at sea as to how to do that, check out this blog periodically, and look at Joel Friedlander’s blog. He has excellent products that will help you write your memoir. His web address is on the sidebar for my blog page https://www.thebookdesigner.com/.
Still have difficulty beginning? Do ten-minute timed writings every morning when you get up. Write:
- anything, really
- silly ideas
- think-outside-the-box stuff
Just keep writing for the full ten minutes without stopping. Do this every morning for even just a short while, and you will be amazed at your productivity. Isn’t that great news?
Now here’s the bad news:
Much of that productivity (maybe even MOST of it) will be crap. But some of it won’t, and you may be surprised at where your timed writing leads you.
More good news: This exercise will help you get unstuck more easily than anything else I know, so go for it. Don’t judge any of it right away, just see where it leads you.
Let’s go for it! As my mother used to say, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
That’s it for now. Back atcha with more resources and more ideas for writing your memoir, and I’ll share a few photos that didn’t make it into the book. (Old timey stuff, for those of you who remember WWII, and new info for those who don’t!)
So the watermelons are ripe in my garden, and with their development comes fall, and a turning inward.
Time to buckle down and write. But here’s an idea:
Why not share your production with the rest of the memoir clan? Give yourself permission to publish an excerpt or two of your work-in-progress. Like this:
- First lines are important. For instance, here are the first two lines of my new memoir:
Apprehensively, I knocked at the door of a San Francisco basement apartment.
“Come right on in and take off yer clothes, honey!” said a raspy voice from within.
- Out of context, this should pique the interest of most.
- Leave your readers hanging. Build up a bit of mystery. Give it your best shot. Don’t just settle for the first idea that comes to mind. Work it over until it sings!
- Offer more. Let them know what they’ll get as a reward for becoming a part of your online community.
- Here’s another “for instance”: CHECK OUT THIS DEAL! When you preorder my new memoir, Sir! I’m Not That Kind of Girl, or Goody Two-Shoes Goes to Town, by clicking the SEND button at the bottom of my homepage http://www.winecountrywriter.com , you will receive a complimentary e-copy of my three-time award-winning memoir, Accidental Cowgirl: Six Cows, No Horse and No Clue! (see reviews on sidebar).
- Of course, your excerpt can be from any part of your book you choose, as long as it is enough to generate interest and encourage your readers to want to know more.
That’s about it for this time, but I’ll be back with more interesting ideas next week.
As the cheerleaders used to say…READY? OKAY!
(To start your memoir that is).
(Image: Edward Hopper painting on cover for latest Redwood Writers’ Anthology-available on Amazon)
Let’s Get Started:
- MIND MAPS. The easiest way for me to organize my thoughts is with a mind map. This is a free-form record of the thought processes for constructing your memoir that you can add to or subtract from easily.
- To begin, find yourself a large sheet of drawing paper and place your main thought in the center. For instance, let’s call it “My Memoir” for now.
- Draw a circle around your title/main thought.
- Next, draw lines that look like the spokes of a wheel, out from your main circle. Not too long. Leave room between them, because you are going to write down your thoughts about your memoir along these lines. Whatever comes to you.
- Then, see if you can think of a few other thoughts on each subject. Draw branches for these secondary thoughts, and then branch from them, just like the branches of a tree. Don’t overthink it at this point, just write down whatever comes to your mind. One thought or subject will lead organically to another.
- Pretty soon you’ll see something resembling a spider web or tree. Have fun with it. Add color and unique shapes. Play.
- Now on a separate piece of paper, make a few notes on each subject you’ve been able to identify. And so on.This technique works best for right-brain dominant folks (artists and flower children, perhaps). Now let’s look at how to begin your memoir if you’re a left-brain type (say a mathematician or an engineer):
2. OUTLINE (you remember how to do this from high school, don’t you?) It goes like this:
- Me-(during the period defined by the memoir—not your whole life, that’s an autobiography)
- My Family
- How they affected my life, etc.
a. strong memories about them
c. funny stories
…and so on. I guess you can sorta tell into which camp I fall.
The most important thing, remember, is to “just do it!”
No more excuses.
Until next time…
So now that the excitement is over and I can think again, let’s get back to business—the business of writing, that is.
Here are the three tips I promised you. I believe they will help you to do the hardest thing: get started:
- If you’re going to be interviewing sources, especially those in your own family, it’s best to be professional.
You don’t want to get stuck in an emotional morass before you even know what hit you.
By this, I mean it’s best to have a checklist or interview questions in front of you when you begin. That way you don’t get sidetracked, and you get the information you need.
Ask questions like, “How much do you remember about our childhood, say when you were about two to the age of five?” if you’re dealing with brothers or sisters.
Or perhaps, “Mom, remember that funny story you always told us about uncle Jake at the Thanksgiving feast? Would you tell me that story again so that I get it straight? I have trouble remembering all the details.”
That way, you can sort of ease into your memoir without letting on just yet what you’re doing. Sometimes, when you tell people you’re writing a memoir, they may tend to freeze up. You don’t want that.
2. Give them a choice.
Once you’re well launched on writing your memoir, it’s safer to let them in on what you’re doing.
Tell them you need to refresh your memory, and you’d like some help in writing about yourself and the family.
Ask them if they’d rather you talked to them in person, or if they would rather write some things down and give them to you; or would they rather you use a tape recorder to get the gist of their memories. That way, if you have a reluctant subject, he or she has a way out of a direct confrontation. Depending on the matter you are writing about, that may be a good thing.
3. Always be courteous and nonconfrontational.
You don’t want to get into an argument with someone about a remembered event. Just say, Oh thanks for that. It’s funny I remember it differently. I guess I’ll have to research it a little more. Thanks for the feedback.” And gracefully exit, stage left.
Because in the end, it’s your memories that count. It’s your memoir, after all, but you might mention somewhere in your manuscript or introduction or preface, that your sister or mother or father, say, remembers it differently.
In your writing, you must always know that individual memories are not infallible. Not even yours.
And there you have it. I hope this helps you to get started and best of all do you keep going, as discussed in a previous post, it’s hard to begin again once you’ve lost your momentum. Take it for me I’m a great procrastinator.
I hope you were able to watch my interview with Ray Lucia yesterday on the Ray Lucia Show, and can take advantage of the free offers on this website. I haven’t seen it myself yet, so I’m not sure if it’s worth a look. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll let you know.
Until next time, when we will discuss how to organize the actual writing of your memoir, ciao!
Praise and Reviews
“Rarely do I find a book so enjoyable that I savor it in small nibbles, like fine chocolate. Accidental Cowgirl is such a book.”
Alice Berger-Berger’s Book Reviews
“Mary Lynn Archibald has written a wonderfully whimsical story that will make you laugh. What a great little gem of a book.”
…“I think you will enjoy visiting Twin Creeks Ranch and getting to know the people, cows, cats, dogs, wild turkeys, deer, coyotes, bluebirds, and snakes that call the place home.”Gil Mansergh, Film Critic, Book Doctor, Author