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What am I doing here? (1 Viewer)

plnelson

Member
... Good question. I'm starting a writing project, broadly in the memoir/autobiography domain, and I'm seeking an online forum where I can get suggestions for writers' forums that have a strong and active interest in non-fiction, and especially memoir and autobiography writing.

This has been surprisingly hard to find. Most of the online writing forums I've discovered are heavily weighted toward fiction writing, especially genre fiction such as science fiction and fantasy, mystery/thriller, romance, etc. It's hard to get a critical mass of discussion going on non-fiction questions.

One question that stumped them on both writingforums (dot org) and mywriterscircle was this: I'm 68 and I want to write about my weird, chaotic, cluttered, eclectic life. I've read lots of memoirs and autobiographies where the author imposed an almost teleological sense of order on the accounts of his affairs, and ripped the veil of uncertainty to shreds, but I think that's dishonest. I want to tell it like it is, or at least as it actually felt at the time. So I want to write in a nonlinear, discursive, and fragmented way. Also, I've worked as a photojournalist and commercial photographer, I've (sporadically) kept a journal for almost 50 years, my fine art paintings and photography have sold in galleries, I've had poems published in obscure literary journals. I want to include some of this content in the book. So I'm seeking suggestions for examples of successful, published, memoirs and autobiographies written in a nonlinear, fragmentary and discursive style, especially if they incorporate other kinds of work such as poetry, paintings, photos, journal entries and newspaper articles. On those other websites no one could think of any, but they all disclaimed they they were fiction writers and weren't familiar with other genres.

I like non-fiction writers who can write discursively, but with enough authorial presence that the reader remains confident he will be safely returned home - Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach manage to do this. I like unreliable, crazy quilt narration - Hunter S. Thompson, especially with Ralph Steadman as his illustrator. In fiction I like ambiguity - 100 years of Solitude (Marquez) and Gravity's Rainbow (Pynchon), etc. I want to incorporate these elements in my work. But I'm seeking examples of memoir and autobiography that employ some of these elements I've described.

If answer comes there none, is there a writing forum where this kind of question could find an audience?

Thanks in advance!
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
You've come to the right place. This is one of the most active sites out there and so you're more likely to get feedback and good chat. It's why I'm here anyway. There is a section dedicated to your needs too ... BONUS. One thing I would say though, even though I never read autobiographies (SORRY!) is, regardless of the fact you want a none-linear account of your life, the framing, in my opinion, should at least have some linearity. If I was going to approach this idea, I'd have myself looking down at my diary selecting sections for scrutiny. That way I can retail a linear structure, while dipping in and out of none linear content. Just a thought.

edit: Perhaps you're sat in a room surrounded by things from your past and each of them relates to a moment in your life. they all contribute to a linear evaluation of your life but they can be examined none-linearly when reading the section in your diary associated with them. Then all you've got to consider is the conclusion and what all of that content means to you.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Hello @PL

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1511926112/

That is an 'Amazon link' up above - which takes you to 'Walter's Diary.' Mini-sensation a couple of years ago. It is a gentleman's memoirs from 1939-45 in which he describes gardening and walking the dog, catching the train to work. Take a couple of skips from the link you might discover similar titles? I know it's not exactly what you seek.

New Writing North & New Writing South often publicise 'Diary of a Country Potter' kind of titles. 'A Year with Bees,' all that. If you're in the UK they might help with links toward the publishing houses. Otherwise - could you not fictionalise - hand over your memories to the reader, let them fly :)

Welcome to the forum. They have been very kind with me. A sophisticated and tolerant arena.
 

plnelson

Member
edit: Perhaps you're sat in a room surrounded by things from your past and each of them relates to a moment in your life. they all contribute to a linear evaluation of your life but they can be examined none-linearly when reading the section in your diary associated with them. Then all you've got to consider is the conclusion and what all of that content means to you.

Indeed; I'm surrounded by my past both physically and mentally. But my motivation is a little more complicated. Back in the 80's my late wife and I were design engineers in the tech industry and we knew that tech would utterly transform our world, but because this was before the Web and mobile phones, we didn't know the details. We had a friend who was the director of a nearby museum devoted to the early days of the industrial revolution and we asked him if the workers then had any idea how much industrialisation would change society and culture. He wasn't sure but he showed me how to find thousands of diaries and letters of people living through those times, and as a result of that I've developed a fascination with how people lived and what they were thinking in the past. And it's all the detail, minutiae and texture that I most enjoy while reading that material. I can feel what it's like to BE them; I can feel their clothes on my skin and the cobblestones under my feet. And the thing about diaries and letters is that they are very immediate. There's no artificial order or organisation imposed on them based on knowing things later. I want that quality in my book. My life is chaotic and noisy and fragmented and I want to retain that somehow. But I don't want to do a stream-of-consciousness exercise - Joyce's Ulysses is 730 pages and it's only one day!

BTW, I see you're in Grimsby. Is that Grimsby, England? Only minutes ago I was listening to a maritime folk song, "Three Score and Ten" set in Grimsby. I'm in Chelmsford. But not Chelmsford, England.
 

plnelson

Member
. Otherwise - could you not fictionalise - hand over your memories to the reader, let them fly :)

I don't want to fictionalise. My real life has been strange and magical and eclectic and dramatic enough without the need to do so, and I feel it would dishonour the people and events to alter them in any way. I see this as more of an historical document, but I don't want it to be dry like academic research, because it doesn't feel dry to live it, so that would be inaccurate.

That's why I'm seeking examples of well-written memoirs and autobiographies to see how good authors handle this, but as I said above, I want to eschew books that are too well-organised because when writers employ hindsight to organise their books they end up filtering out all the messy distractions, details, uncertainties and veils of ignorance that comprise real human lives. So you may see what the person did, but you don't feel what it was like to BE them at the time. I have the luxury of having artwork, poetry and journal entries going back decades to remind me what was in my head at the time so I want to use those.
 
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TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
Indeed; I'm surrounded by my past both physically and mentally. But my motivation is a little more complicated. Back in the 80's my late wife and I were design engineers in the tech industry and we knew that tech would utterly transform our world, but because this was before the Web and mobile phones, we didn't know the details. We had a friend who was the director of a nearby museum devoted to the early days of the industrial revolution and we asked him if the workers then had any idea how much industrialisation would change society and culture. He wasn't sure but he showed me how to find thousands of diaries and letters of people living through those times, and as a result of that I've developed a fascination with how people lived and what they were thinking in the past. And it's all the detail, minutiae and texture that I most enjoy while reading that material. I can feel what it's like to BE them; I can feel their clothes on my skin and the cobblestones under my feet. And the thing about diaries and letters is that they are very immediate. There's no artificial order or organisation imposed on them based on knowing things later. I want that quality in my book. My life is chaotic and noisy and fragmented and I want to retain that somehow. But I don't want to do a stream-of-consciousness exercise - Joyce's Ulysses is 730 pages and it's only one day!

BTW, I see you're in Grimsby. Is that Grimsby, England? Only minutes ago I was listening to a maritime folk song, "Three Score and Ten" set in Grimsby. I'm in Chelmsford. But not Chelmsford, England.

I like the sound of that. Dipping in and out randomly is going to be difficult though. And yeah, I'm from Grimsby, England. :)
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Forum fits requirements. Post an extract, garner consensus how 'this piece of prose has a fantastic chance among the memoir publishers, go for it buddy,' or perhaps otherwise/or other ways..?

My meaning to fictionalise ties with Hunter S Thompson referencing, in framing the memory as an entertainment. I think that is clear enough. There are many ways to write one visit to one police conference. So your response feels disconcerting a tiny bit, distressed with tears.

Nevertheless dad, I anticipate your stories are wonderful and intriguing and I will swallow every last word, and urge you on and on, your best parasite.
 

plnelson

Member
Forum fits requirements. Post an extract, garner consensus how 'this piece of prose has a fantastic chance among the memoir publishers, go for it buddy,' or perhaps otherwise/or other ways..?
I'm sorry but I can't parse this paragraph at all.

My meaning to fictionalise ties with Hunter S Thompson referencing, in framing the memory as an entertainment. I think that is clear enough. There are many ways to write one visit to one police conference. So your response feels disconcerting a tiny bit, distressed with tears.

"distressed with tears."?

I interpreted "fictionalise" to mean inventing characters, altering dialog or facts, etc. A police station becomes a cafeteria; a magistrate becomes a chef; everyone's wearing a mask but instead of Covid masks they're Venetian masks, etc. It would be a fun writing exercise. I agree there are countless ways of writing about the same event. The same event could be told from the perspective of different people present, or told through dialog, or told through the movements or actions of people there, or told via smells, textures, or sounds, or in the first, second, or third person, etc, etc. I'm sure we've all had to do exercises like that in writing classes. But I don't think that necessarily constitutes fiction.

Nevertheless dad, I anticipate your stories are wonderful and intriguing and I will swallow every last word, and urge you on and on, your best parasite.
I'm not a dad unless you count that one time when we aborted the fetus because my wife had cancer and was EPR+ so they thought the pregnancy would make her cancer worse. Anyway I was scared to become a single father. She eventually did die, but decades later when the child would have been 20.
 

plnelson

Member
Things seem to have petered out in this thread, but I'd like to make some progress.
Does anyone have any suggestions of where on the web I can find:

1. An ACTIVE discussion forum focusing on non-fiction writing, especially emphasising memoir and autobiographical genres? There's a small non-fiction section here but it seems to mainly be for showing and critiquing your work rather than having general discussions about non-fiction writing theory and practice.

2. Suggestions of examples of successful, published autobiography or memoir writing that are non-linear. discursive, mixed media (includes visual art, poetry, etc, in creative, interesting ways)? I cited a couple of examples, above, but I'd like some more.

Thanks in advance.
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
1. An ACTIVE discussion forum focusing on non-fiction writing, especially emphasising memoir and autobiographical genres? There's a small non-fiction section here but it seems to mainly be for showing and critiquing your work rather than having general discussions about non-fiction writing theory and practice.

2. Suggestions of examples of successful, published autobiography or memoir writing that are non-linear. discursive, mixed media (includes visual art, poetry, etc, in creative, interesting ways)? I cited a couple of examples, above, but I'd like some more.

Thanks in advance.
1. Go start the discussion. People are not going to keep going ad infinitum in your Intro thread, yet you've gotten some nice responses here.
2. This is the kind of thing I love to see people spend 10 minutes on Google for. These searches are typically not that hard to explore and get lots of results. This does not sound like an area where many people are going to have referrals off the top of their head, so your own search is likely your best resource.
 

plnelson

Member
1. Go start the discussion.
Where? I'm new here so I probably don't understand the layout, but the only non-fiction section I saw here seemed to be about reading and critiquing work, not asking the sort of questions I had. And of course my focus is on writing memoirs and autobiography writing, which is a narrower subset.

This is the kind of thing I love to see people spend 10 minutes on Google for.

I've spent hours on Google. I've joined four other writing forums with the same question, but I run into the same problem: Everybody seems focused on fiction writing but I've been struggling to find an active NON-fiction forum. There are some non-fiction writing forums but they're not very active - a few postings a week, total. At one point I found a promising looking list: https://learningpath.org/articles/20_Inspiring_Forums_for_Creative_Writers.html where they say "Forums For Every Writer", and a couple of the ones I joined were on their list.

yet you've gotten some nice responses here

The only response I've gotten that seemed to address my questions pointed to diaries. I'm already a voracious diary-reader. Years ago I developed an interest in the social history of industrialisation so I started reading diaries from about 1800-1900. Diaries are not memoirs or autobiography but they do inform my quest because I want to write memoir or autobiography that displays the same veil of ignorance about the future that a diary does. Most autobiographies "cheat" because the author takes advantage of knowing how things turned out. So they read like teleology. One reason I'm determined to write an unconventional account is to be more emotionally honest, the way a diary is.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Hi, welcome to the forum, plnelson. Your posts here sound like you're hoping for a higher concentration of nonfiction writers in the community. However, it's difficult to know how many people are ready to talk nonfiction until that discussion is put out there. Try the Writing Discussion forum for a nonfiction discussion thread and see how it goes.

It sounds as though you are trying to find a lot of examples of what you want to do and you've apparently been reading a lot. Are you perhaps ready to jump into some writing? You've got a general idea of how you want this to work, you know the stories you want to write. so just start writing them one at a time. You can always arrange them however you like later but for now you could treat each one as a standalone work while the whole thing is in progress.

When you've written one of these you can workshop that in the non-fiction workshop and I see that there are pieces in there under discussion so I know that the forum is active. This also indicates that there might just be people up for the discussions that you'd like to have about writing nonfiction.

As far as examples you may be more conversant with examples than many in the WF community are.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I think you've found a good place for your style of writing. Speaking of non-linear, have you ever read Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5?
My first 2 novels were autobiographies - although I created some distance between myself and the story... mostly to keep the police from showing up at my door.
Good luck, and I can't wait to hear more about your story.
 
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