Guest blogger Ami Spencer: Write so readers can relate

Part of my goal on this blog is to foster conversation between writers, create a community of mutual support. Your thoughts, ideas and advice matter to me — and today we’re getting all three from Ami Spencer, a freelance writer who blogs at Write Out Loud.

Ami, I turn it over to you.

When Alexis approached me about writing a guest post for her blog, I jumped at the chance. I love what she’s doing here, and almost every post has helped me in some way. You see, I’m a memoir writer, too.

I write other things, and I certainly write about topics other than myself, but writing stories about my life and the lessons I’ve learned is what really gets my creative energy flowing. “Write what you know,” the collective wisdom tells us. But writing what we know, writing about our deepest, most vulnerable selves, is not easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Like many writers, a good deal of my writing comes to life as I process my own surroundings and experiences. Frankly, writing is cheaper than therapy. Much of my biographical writing starts as an emotional outpouring. It’s painful and messy, like a journal entry written in the heat of an internal struggle. These initial drafts are for my eyes only and many of them don’t make it beyond this purging. What a reader sees is brutally edited and reshaped accounting of the moment—a dumbing-down, if you will, of the emotion to allow the real story to peak through.

Because these pieces are linked so intimately with my emotions—sometimes emotions I don’t particularly want to experience again—I’m prone to procrastination. Most of the time, I’d rather write a how-to article or scrub the bathroom tile than dig deep into a painful experience. The problem with this is that I have a strong need to produce work that is deep and meaningful and that how-to article or a sparkling bathroom just won’t cut it. Eventually, the creative side of me wins and an essay or chapter is born.

“But why would anyone want to read about your life?” you might wonder. A lot of people question why anyone would want to write a memoir unless they were famous (or infamous). And sometimes I wonder this myself. I am, after all, just a normal, every-day woman living a relatively uneventful life.

This is why, when my personal essay, Flying with a Ghost, was published in an anthology recently, I was unsure how people would react to it. The piece was a humorous and touching look at life after weight loss and I hoped they would laugh in all the right places, be moved by my story, relate to my experience. But what if they thought I was egotistical? Presumptuous? Self-centered?

Reading that story in front of a relatively large group for the very first time, I shook with both excitement and anxiety. Would they understand the feelings and ideas I was trying to express?

I paused, waiting for the laughs. And there they were. I looked up to see nods of agreement, smiles of encouragement. They were getting it. After the reading, both women and men approached me thanking me for my candor and willingness to share my life with them. It turns out people do want to read about my life. They want to read about any life that they can relate to, even at the most basic of levels. Just as novels allow us to stretch ourselves, to see things from someone else’s point of view, memoirs allow us to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

I believe this is why memoirs have become so popular lately. We can live vicariously through travelers like Alexis, learn what it’s like to be raised in another culture, peak into the thoughts of a drug addict or alcoholic. When a person’s story is told honestly and openly, we can learn a great deal not only about that person, but about ourselves.

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20 Responses

  1. Thanks for featuring me today, Alexis! Our goals for our blogs are very much the same and it was fun to write for someone else for a change. I’m so happy to have found you, and so many other great writers, to network with and bounce ideas off. Keep up the great work here!

    As always, if any of your readers have questions I’d be happy to answer them.

  2. Good points. I read to escape and when I’m reading about someone else’s life, I have an opportunity to do that (and to travel vicariously, in the case of Alexis!)

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

    • I agree! That’s the best thing about books in general. You get to live someone else’s life for a while. And the vicarious travel is often the most fun example of that!

  3. Thanks Ami and Alexis. I so completely agree with this post, since this is why I write, hoping readers with connect on some level with my struggles and successes. Wishing you both continued successes with your memoir-writing.
    Karen

  4. The magazine I write for, Guideposts, features true stories of both amazingly dramatic events and everyday happenings. When told with emotion and insight, they are equally satisfying. Some maybe even like the everyday stories better!

    • That’s a great point, Peggy. “Everyday” stories can be just as interesting, if not more so, than stories about dramatic experiences. Keep writing!

  5. Sigh….I need to stop putting off my own writing. You’re right. I’d rather do anything else then re-live painful experiences for my stories – I always have some laundry to finish or dishes to wash. But I know I have some good ones to type up.

    I just need a little courage.

    • Consider this your gentle nudge. Put down the laundry basket and just spend 10 minutes writing about something…anything. It gets easier once you’ve started. I promise. 🙂

  6. Memoirs are interesting, and people are interested in reading about your life. I know people who have endured years of pain no human being should have to go through.

    They turned around and not only are writing their memoirs, but also a fictional series that is intensely scary and terrifying. I’ve read some of the draft. You just can’t script this stuff from your imagination.

    Steve Tremp
    http://www.stephentremp.blogspot.com

  7. Once again, a great blog. Thanks Alexis and Ami!

  8. There is so much to be learned from blogs like this and experiences you share in your memoirs.

    Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

  9. Good morning, Alexis. I’ve included you among those receiving the Humane Award this morning for regular and tasteful blog posts and sweet comments on my blog. To learn more about this blogging award and how I came to receive it (and pass it on to worthy blogging friends), drop by my blog this morning.

  10. Thank you Ami for this wonderful insight into memoir. I am in the process of writing several personal articles related to my travels and I wonder all the time, “Who will even care about this?” But you’re right. People enjoy reading about others, enjoy escaping their own lives even if just for a moment. Thank you for encouragement to step out and “write what we know”.

    Thanks, Alexis, for this guest post 🙂

    • I think we enjoy reading about the lives of others because if we can relate, even if only in a small way, we feel less alone in such a big world. Connecting with and learning from one another is a necessity. Thanks for commenting!

  11. Ami,

    Thanks so much for the insight in your original post and in your comments! Our conversation is much richer having people like you stop by the blog.

  12. I like reading compelling memoirs. Don’t think I could write one. It seems like you’d have to have a level of separation and I don’t think I could do that.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

  13. I’m with Helen — I don’t think I could write my memoir (not yet, anyway). I’d much rather write non-fiction that inspires people to live big, dream big, achieve their goals (hence my Quips & Tips websites!).

    Though, some memoirs do inspire people to do great things with their own lives or simply accept themselves for who they are….that would be the memoir I’d write.

    Ami, I found your “8 Fantastic Blogs for Freelance Writers” on my RSS (through Alexis) — thanks for including me 🙂

    Laurie

  14. i think you hit the nail on the head with this post. i know i read to empathize and learn from the life of others (even if they are fictional others) and i write to say something and to hope that someone else will connect to it 🙂

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