…about my writing, the craft of non-fiction, or building a creative practice.Your questions give me a chance to share what I’ve learnt, and I appreciate the honesty and courage subscribers are bringing to this thread.(Please be mindful of our community guidelines when contributing).
Hello Tanya. Thank you for all the time and energy you put into supporting people here. I'm also enjoying your contributions to Hagitude enormously and find both spaces really affirming. Please can you share something about how you keep yourself safe while sharing intimate parts of your story? I've done a lot of work on boundaries recently after discovering at the age of 50 that my boundaries were paper thin. It's a fascinating and helpful process, but I have't yet managed to integrate my new knowledge into my creative work. I've found myself hiding behind research and science and evidence-based knowledge and ignoring my own gentle emotional intelligent knowing. I now feel drawn to relax back into my essential self and listen to the guide inside. She's waiting patiently in the shadows to show me the way - but how much to share, how raw to be... Whose is this internal voice that says 'who do you think you are, no-one cares about your story / stop being self indulgent / your experience isn't special / stop attention seeking / I can't believe you told people THAT' Is it my own voice trying to protect me, or another critical voice from my childhood? What tips can you offer to craft authentic meaningful edited work - and feel safe when it goes out into the world?
So good of you to engage with people like this, Tanya. I've written bits 'n pieces of a spiritual memoir for many years and it just wasn't coming together. So I set up a blog and started posting stories from my personal experience relating to wider Nature, accompanied by photos that I've taken personally. Working on the website inspires me, though I hold intimate experiences back. I think an arc is showing up and perhaps could download the entire thing and start crafting a central plot but am still resisting it. Why do I resist what I really want to do? Feels like the jist of the story is still too mushy.
I've just finished your book. I was directed to it via Simple Things to Instagram to my local bookshop where it was sitting waiting on the shelf for me. I read it in two days. I took myself to the beach, to sit beside my sea (that is not really the sea, but a promise of the sea out east) to finish it today. I smiled when I read that in Wild Woman Swimming you advised that it was to be read "outside - may it go waterlogged, sun-buckled and wind-chapped" - as this is how I always christen the books that are my Important Books. My Important Books are not pristine but are spine-cracked, with frayed corners and sand wedged into every crevice.
About half way through reading the cure for sleep I knew it had become an Important Book to me. (As well as being weather-battered, Important Books can be identified as those books that I wholeheartedly recommend to friends and family, but only reluctantly lend in case it should not find it's way back to me.) Fresh from reading it, I don't think I can yet say exactly the specifics of how it is one of my Important Books, I will need a re-read to articulate it fully. I want to re-read it immediately, but I think better to read it in a few months time when my life feels a little less portentous and noisy.
I have never been a more-of-a-comment-than-a-question sort of person (in truth, not even just-a-quick-question sort of person) but here I am, crashing into this generous space you have created, where mainly I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your words, and thank you especially for writing "Because it would be enough, more than enough, to be a person occupied for the rest of my life by what might look to others only an idiotically simple gathering in of small and obscure moments: the collecting of stories from ordinary people like me." This, this is so very key to who I want to be. I will sit with these words, and with the "THE SCULPTOR'S ADVICE FOR ART AND LIFE", borrow them a little, if that's okay, as I try to write ordinary stories of ordinary things and ordinary people.
I hope you are well. And again, thank you so very much for your book.
I would like to write more about my Dad and his life, but even though it is four years after he died, I still find it painful and difficult to find the words. I wrote a 3000 word assignment for my course about one aspect of his death and it nearly broke me. Your 300 word prompts have been a creak in the door that I have just about managed. Do you have any advice about how to write about painful events and how to create that distance so the pain doesn't overwhelm you? I think you mentioned in a conversation that you need a gap of 7 years, but I can't remember if that was advice someone had mentioned to you or whether I dreamt it.
Thanks again for you so generously creating a caring community to talk about these things here.
With best wishes, Vanessa x
My question for you: how did you distance yourself enough from your own life for the memoir to be 'crafted' rather than just an outpouring of thoughts and emotions?
And my answers in return: I've started to write again, after not writing anything for myself for about 15 years. I hesitate whenever I read other people's work as I very often love it more than my own. Do I have anything to say that hasn't been written more eloquently by someone else? The way I get around that is just to write, and to try not to overthink it, even if I know it is imperfect, or would benefit from some breathing space and editing.
I am writing for myself, for the pleasure, and relief, of it. Whenever I have to write for someone else (e.g. in work), I find myself constrained by their expectations (imagined or real).
As I'm writing short snippets, I have a lot in my head that doesn't make it into the writing. I wonder if the subtext in my head is making it onto the page, if that makes sense?
I do get stuck with technicalities. In my most recent piece, I tried to write it quickly, without overthinking, but I did try a few different ways of sequencing it. I was describing three periods in time, within 250 words and it felt confusing to me, so I thought it would definitely confuse a reader. After a few tries, I still wasn't sure, but thought it was good enough. I don't think I'd click 'Post' ever, if I felt my writing had to be more than that.
I worry my ideas are silly and no one will find them interesting
I know you through Hagitude, and just found my way here. I wrote my 300 words for the most recent prompt but before I could post it, I became paralyzed by fear. Fear seems to be a constant companion these days. The past half decade I’ve been very much the hermit, retreating from the world and the the sight-lines of those who might feast on my vulnerability. The idea of publishing something personal with my name on it in a place presumably accessible by a google search and upon which I have no control over whether it stays up a month or a year from now makes me feel nauseous like I need to go lay down. It turns out one part of me very much likes the safety of hiding. Yet another part longs to share the depth inside me. These parts are in quite the war.
I don’t want to simply override the fearful part, because that usually leads to a backlash, I've learned. But I’m curious what words you might have for how to bring that part more onboard?
Thank you so much for this amazing resource and facilitating this place for all of us to feel safe to share our work.
I loved TCFS and I know it will be one of those books I dip in and out of regularly.
I'm in the very early stages of getting things on paper and I'm finding so many answers to my questions here.
Your attention to detail and links to interesting articles/poems/novels etc to read on the other pages have been invaluable.
So thank you again, I just wanted to join the community and send you love as you care for your mum.
Thank you for replying to my enquiry and for taking the time to do so. It has been very helpful to learn of how you approached this. I should have mentioned that I have been a 'befriender' in the community as well as doing the work I mentioned in the actual hospice. It seems so obvious that this is the role that naturally leads to scribing.
It's also very useful to learn that it is not necessarily something people want done in order to leave something for family members, but more to do with their own feelings and thoughts about their unique lives and the way in which we each come face to face with our own mortality.
Thank you, also, for enclosing the link to The Guardian article which I shall certainly read.
I suppose it is a case of explaining why I feel writing may offer a way for some people to find that ease or greater preparedness for death. As you say, the talking is probably the true salve, and the possibility of writing some of these thoughts is a way to open the conversation.
Thank you for your kindness, and I shall let you know how I get on.
It has meant a lot to me to read your response. You have a way of caring for your reading community that gives many of us courage.
With gratitude and love,
I've wanted to ask you for a long time now, about your work as a hospice scribe. I would like to return as a volunteer at my local hospice. I have beena ward volunteer, mainly helping the ward clerk with small admin tasks, flower arranging, cleaning etc.
They do not have a scribe, and I would like to approach them with this idea. I wonder if you might tell me how you, as a scribe,
explain the details of your role and the ways in which you would become "assigned" ( probably not the correct expression) to particular patients. I know it is a delicate environment and
so the practicalities of inviting a scribe will help me in my approach to the hospice manager.
I send you and your dear Mum my love and gratitude.
I just wanted to say a big thank you for all that you do, for all that you give and in particular this section here that I have finally found the time to read through. So many of the questions I might ask have already been addressed here and so I have a good idea of where and how to start in my new pursuit of an age old dream.
This gift from you just keeps giving.
I was going to ask a question, dear Tanya, and then I lost myself in the spirit of generosity that elicits such open and enquiring contributions from folk with stuff to say ... I marvel at the way you reach out with the key, pop it in the lock for people, and turn it before pushing a door open for them. It really is remarkable. I've popped us onto Substack to explore community building around the values at the heart of the Encouragement Manifesto and I'm hoping to nudge myself into a rhythm of writing - but also into being brave enough to ask others to write for us in the way that they have for you (and us too when I check in on our own archive). You've created a vibrant community and a rich archive (though that always sounds less alive than it is) ... a great model to aspire to.
In the meantime, I have scribbled a story - 70+ thousand words, a start, a middle and an end ... so, a writing question, if I may? Editing ... Stephen King says "to write is human, to edit is divine' ... but, I'm not sure where to start. How do you begin to edit ... what stays, what goes? How do you know what you are aiming for? Sorry, it's a boringly technical sounding question now I read it back.
Hi Tanya, I hope I find you well and thanks again for creating this space that allows me to come out of hiding. The bubbling cauldron of words inside are now ladled out and allowed to cool down and seen with a more discerning eye. The monthly story archive exercises have enabled me to unleash a body of words I didn't know existed in me. I look over the pieces of work I have written and there is a visceral, organic texture to them; exclaiming feeling like splurges of paint thrown at a canvas. It has built up my confidence, enabling me to rewrite, reshape and edit my work until it feels right. It has been a journey of discovery for me being part of this now 1000 strong writing community.
Trying to use social media properly is a big stumbling block for me. I have ideas for things I would like to try out on social media but lack the knowledge.
The idea of writing memoir had never occurred to me, but your beautiful book introduced me to a new art form that has helped me to reorganise the way I see and value my lifescape.
Val Murray July 23 says she holds intimate experiences back. Maybe this is always at the heart of difficulty with memoir? It took me years to realise that most of my work had its roots in personal and sometimes painful things I think perhaps this was a way that helped me write some of it though. Not memoir at that time but something more distanced written in a voice that wasn’t mine. Those voices helped me shape memories and difficult things yet still hold them at a distance. That’s not to say that when I published a memoir Not The Sky that I wasn’t still processing hugely painful experiences. It’s just that I had more of a track to try them out. Little steps perhaps? Just a thought
Yes I want to write - there is something within me that wants to come out, I’m just not quite sure what it is! Hard to focus and concentrate on finding IT.
Writing by hand doesn’t work for me so I’ve been writing little short notes on my phone, easy as I always have my phone.
I suppose I fear people I know will mock or laugh at what I write
First, thanks for doing this. Love hearing what you and the others are sharing and want to impulsively order all the books and get overwhelmed by them all, which is also part of my problem. I feel that my writing is all over the place, For the last several years I have written about my yearly gynecology exams which includes comments from a personified, snarky middle-aged vagina and tied this into other areas of my life, written pieces for a memoir based on pictures as well as other pieces just based on life or a prompt, and then more place based nature writing, I try to be forgiving and just celebrate that I am writing and having fun, but sometimes it would be nice to have a project, something cohesive.
Definitely want to do the list of books/authors. The first author who comes to mind is Abigail Thomas, she is really able to let her humanity shine through without apology. She wrote Three Dog Life about her life after her husband’s traumatic brain injury, Safekeeping, which is a book of short vignettes that make up a life, and What Comes Next and How to Like it.
Beloved Tanya - as i sit weeping with you in the closing ceremony of Hagitude, I too who have a small world due to caring for my adult son, would happily invite you to my kitchen for a cup of tea. And as someone who has also been out of touch with my body, I am weaving this into my small New Moon community and would gratefully share it with you. Thank you for all you are and all you have given me and the world
Hello Tanya, thank you for responding, it was in reference to what you had initially written in the chat. How would I kick start myself to start writing? There is a part of me which is really wishing to and another part that is hiding in the corner, anything you offer would be helpful! Thank you x
Not necessarily writing related but really trying to channel your spirit today as I attempt to take the next step in a work related direction. I’m a children’s nurse/teacher and am desperate to become a Mindfulness Practioner. I’m stumbling along and holding on to the idea that it’s much worse to NOT follow my path. What do I have to loose, if not now, when? And yet it’s so tough! So not a question here ,just musing and trying to take some strength from you!
All of the above I would dearly love for you to expand on. This is completely new to me and open to explore. Thank you.
Gosh Tanya, thank you. Thrilling and scary all at once! I've been - am still - a bit emotionally frozen, too much going on etc etc, so I'm actually using these stories and prompts to try to coax my creativity back out. Thank you for your continued support, it really does feel like you're right there xxx
I just recently finished your book, TCFS. It inspired a lot of my own writing about my relationship with my mother. I'm writing a memoir about growing up in the south of the USA, Florida, around rebel flags, guns and too much alcohol. I have 65,000 words written. I'm at the point of needing an editor, maybe developmental help. Do you have any suggestions on what to do next? I was thinking of taking a memoir writing course and getting some eyes on it in that container...Thank you for any insight <3 Amber
Hi Tanya. Inspired by your seminar for Bath spa students I would like to contribute a piece about gestures of a long lost relative. How do I send this to you?
Hi Tanya, hope all are well.
Recently at the workshop in Ilkley you mentioned a Robert Frost poem, quoted it a little, but at great speed and I missed it. Can you remember which of his considerable poems it might have been? many thanks x
Hi Tanya, how do you switch off in between your writing time? That was one of the reasons I stopped few years ago - I couldn’t turn my brain off. I started to miss appointments, be late for school pick ups, switch off during conversations, burst into tears out of the blue and generally feeling unwell and ungrounded. Few friends simply gave up on me. My long suffering husband wanted to be supportive but …. and on and on it went. Not sure what would have happened if it wasn’t for lockdown. I had to stop as i had no more space in my head and in the house anymore. Different priorities took over. But now I feel that I’m being sucked into the same vortex and, for some reason, it is much scarier this time. How do I turn that tap off? My dad was a poet (still is) and I remember very well what it was like to be next to someone, who’s miles away in spirit. One of the reasons, I consciously never wanted to be a writer. Too much baggage and insanity. It’s funny how all those things happen.
I've got a 120,000 word first draft on the computer. But now. The next step. How to take that step back, see the threads and the motifs and how to (re)structure. Trying to summarize what I have written concisely is such a challenge. If I don't know how to condense the story in a couple of paragraphs, how can I make someone else see what it is about? Writer friends who have read chapters, love it. But is that enough?
What keeps bringing me to a halt is getting the balance of honesty and vulnerability right. I know I need to write this as it happened (I’ve already abandoned one attempt because what I was writing didn’t feel honest enough to me), yet if I write it as honestly as I want to it leaves me very vulnerable. I don’t come over well for the most part of my memoir, I’m not proud of how I was, but if I’m to write honestly about my life I need to be able to own it for what it is.
I’ve tried to write a memoir several times, but I feel my life is still a work in progress and I don’t see clearly how to shape it into a compelling and coherent narrative. Unlike Tanya, I don’t have a single experience that I can define as a gateway into the story of my life.
I want to write it but I'm scared it will come over as too dark and depressing, when in reality it is a story of hope (and funny at times). I also worry about balancing the tempo of the narrative throughout the book, so that it flows and is enjoyable to read.
I have a contentious relationship with my family members. They are in denial, or genuinely in the dark, about many parts of my life. I worry that writing my experience would make them really angry, defensive, and even horrified. And would heighten my own anger.
I think I feel that I don't have a "story". Or maybe that my story is the wrong way round - my life is shrinking rather than growing. I don't have a struggle to look back on, my struggle is right now, and there's no lesson to it, no message. I have a series of memories - I'm into the 60s with my 100 things (there are days when there is nothing that I am capable of loving, and I have chosen not to worry about that), but I don't see a way of pulling that into a continuous narrative. And maybe that's OK. I think what I admire most in TCFS is your decision to take your creativity seriously - and asking how you did that is not really a craft question, is it? It's more of an existential question.
Oh this is wonderful news, thank you Tanya! Xx
I would like to understand more about the writer's voice please Tanya. What it is exactly and how we can work on creating one (if that is the right way to put it).
Thank you very much for your time.
'A soul version of compound interest! How wonderfully true Tanya!
I have written blogs about challenging life experiences and seek to avoid them being misery memoirs