I love conferences. I meet some of the most fascinating, yet odd, people there; and coincidently I feel right at home. I always have high expectations that some literary agent, publisher, or celebrity will walk up to me and say, “Hey I know you. You’re Terri Whitmire. You wrote that great book… blah blah blah.” Oh, it’s gonna happen. But until then, I’ve decided to make connections with as many people as possible. Maybe I’ll be the one to discover a hidden gem and turn that author into a household name. “Hey aren’t you the one that helped blah blah blah write that bestseller?” “Yup, that’s me,” I’ll say.
It was the Writer’s Digest Conference and I was the first one to enter the Design and Discovery room at the Le Meridian Hotel in Atlanta. I was there to learn more about memoirs. Seated at the speakers’ table was this older blonde woman (around my age) feverishly writing. She wore her hair in French twist – one of my go-to styles. Or as my daughter calls it, the old lady hair-do (*sigh*). She wore a prim and proper tailored jacket and knee-length skirt. The class was nearly three-quarters full when she began to speak. She introduced herself with a slight southern twang and revealed the name of her book, Bleachy-Haired Honky B**ch! And with that she taught us the very first lesson in writing a memoir – have a good title.
Her name is Hollis Gillespie. Through her witty anecdotes and enthusiastic expression, she shared four more tips to writing memoirs that I will now share with you:
- Do not start your story with the weather – the weather is not interesting. She equated an opening line about weather equivalent to driving a spike into her eye. Start your story in the middle of action or heightened drama. Readers have short attention spans and there’s no time or words to waste.
- Try not to include any numerals in your first sentence. Instead say something that would want your reader to learn more. Numerals can be cumbersome to read and they generally don’t add value, unless it is used as a hyperbole. There were 1 million shards of glass scattered across the kitchen table and a look of panic on my daughter’s bloody face.
- Do not use any platitudes at all. Example: “Last Tuesday is a day I’ll never forget.” I agree. This approach has been a little overused in writing memoirs.
- Don’t begin with an ornate description of how something looks, tastes, or smell. I somewhat disagree with this one. I believe sensory detail, tastefully done, is the key to pulling your reader into your world. Her reason for number four is that literary agents have idiosyncratic preferences, and this was a common one. Hmm, duly noted! Let’s take her word for it.
To learn more about memoir writer, Hollis Gillespie, visit her website: http://www.shockingreallife.com/