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Guest Blogger: 5 Suggestions to Help You Stay Motivated

By Nancy Chadwick-Burke

It’s 10:00 a.m. “What’s next? How can I fit writing time into my day?” I ask, checking my day’s agenda in my head. Don’t make a busy day’s schedule a reason to not stay motivated to write.

I’ve been writing memoir for over 10 years and have concluded the following 5 suggestions to help you stay motivated to write even if you have a full day’s agenda.

1. Think of your day in terms of segments.

I segment my day, based on my volunteer job, my paid job and my writing work. Thinking in terms of blocks in your day is less overwhelming and makes it easier to juggle your “to-do’s.” When I get to my “writing work” segment, I’m less distracted and more focused and motivated.

2. Write during the time of day when your writing is the strongest.

I already know my strongest writing and best tapping of the keyboard is late afternoon so I schedule my priority writing at that time, i.e., finishing a piece to meet a submission deadline, edits and rewrites on my memoir manuscript, etc. Whether you need to schedule your writing time early in the morning before your house wakes up and you need to get to work, or after the house is asleep, write when you know you feel strong about your writing.

3. Prioritize your writing.

I’m juggling a number of documents so instead of trying to work on them at the same time, I prioritize them. Submission deadlines should be a priority on your list as you want to give yourself as much lead as possible to ensure you submit your best work. A close second should be working on your memoir manuscript. I consider my manuscript a very close family member whom I always want to visit and nurture. I want to see it grow and mature and find its place in the world. Writing priorities keep me motivated to “get to it” and write.

4. Vary your writing interests.

By this, I mean blog, write short memoir pieces for submission, write an op/ed essay for your local paper, write a comment on someone else’s blog. The point is the more you write for different purposes, the more interest you generate to write. This should keep you motivated.

5. Read anything you can get your hands on.

I’m an avid reader anyway, so picking up an article I find curious is habitual for me. (For example, I found a study of nursing practices as applied to the LGBT community in a trade journal for nurses while I was volunteering at a skilled nursing/rehab center). Reading this study sparked thoughts of my own experiences working with a person who is different from me. I realized we were the same in many ways. What a life lesson to write about! Keeping well-rounded in your reading does encourage more writing, aiding in motivation.

This may sound a lot to incorporate in to your writing but if you can learn to do any of the suggestions above, your motivation should inspire you to create your best work yet.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur Guest Blogger ~ Nancy Chadwick-Burke got her first ad agency job right after college at Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago. After working ten years in advertising, she could not get to where she wanted to be so she turned to the banking industry, and not getting  there either, she realized she wasn’t a banker but worked for a bank. So Nancy quit working full-time to write, finding inspiration from her years spent in Chicago, one of two of her “best” cities, with an intermediate stop in San Francisco, her other “best” city.

Her essay and memoir writing, opinions, and letters have appeared in North Shore Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Tribune Magazine, Triblocal.com and TheDiaryBank.com. Her memoir, Under the Birch Tree, which is most sensitive to human interaction, is currently getting to where it wants to be, too.

Visit Nancy’s blog at http://morememoir.wordpress.com

 

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Why They’re Called First Drafts

Nothing can rightly be called a first unless there is a second. First grade implies second grade; first class implies second class; first book implies (we hope) second book.

That ís why first drafts are called first drafts. A writer must expect to write a second draft, and a third even. No one can sit down and churn out countless pages of prose that don’t need rewriting. Jack Kerouac claimed he did it with On the Road, but we know now that he was stretching the truth.

The first draft is your opportunity to let all the words you have bottled up inside of you spill out onto the page. It can be as messy, as nasty, as melodramatic as you want. There are bound to be spelling errors, grammatical errors, factual errors, and missing information. The important part about a first draft is to write it all down.

Finishing a first draft is important because many of your anxieties about writing will vanish when it is done. You will know that you can in fact write things down. You know that your stories will live on in some fashion, as unruly as that first draft might be. You will have a tremendous sense of accomplishment. However, you are certain to feel some disappointment with the draft.

This is good. That disappointment will spur you on to a second draft. You might end up chucking aside the entire first draft and starting from scratch again. This time, your story will be clearer in your head. You’ll remember the good stuff, and happily leave out the dreadful. Or you might take the first draft and a fistful of sharp pencils and get to work pruning and primping. You’ll look up the right spellings, correct the grammar, fill in the missing information.

Just as important, you will read your work with a more critical eye. You’ll find places where you can expand your story and characters you can bring to life. You will start to notice themes in your work, and the way your story connects to something larger than yourself.

But without that first draft, you would not have gotten there. First drafts are meant to be tossed aside as some point. (Do you really think Herman Melville wrote, “Call me Ishmael.” the first time out? He probably wrote, “My name is John.” See what a second draft can do?) First drafts are your opportunity to write wildly, feverishly, frantically. Use this opportunity well.

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Holding Back the Truth in Your Memoir

“I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt…. we have to know all we can about each other and we have to be willing to go naked.”

–May Sarton

Wow, going around naked! Gulp! (Better hit the gym!)

But, I guess you get the idea–psychologically and emotionally naked. Your memoir needs to tell the truth about life–yours–and sometimes that requires exposing yourself getting “naked.”

I would like to change the metaphor a bit, to use a metaphor that is less startling but very graphic nonetheless. It is the metaphor of the kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bowl.

I love popcorn and enjoy eating it but there always comes a moment when I get to the bottom of the bowl and the plethora of corn kernels that have been popped into delightful puffy bites gives way to the hard half-popped or not-popped-at-all kernels. These are not fun to eat. Disappointed, I walk to the trash and throw the kernels away.

A memoir is best written when it contains only fully-popped truths. By that, I mean that you need to get to what’s hidden and unspoken in your life. Ironically, what makes for the best autobiography also makes for the hardest to write—and the most intimidating. How did you feel when you read a memoir and then learned the writer omited to speak about his or her marriage or work life or handicap and so there is a big hole in the story. It’s safe writing but also begins to be worthless. The reader can sense there is something off, something empty there.

Let’s say you had a major illness and your spouse simply opted out and was unavailable to you. S/he was not able to understand what was going on because of her/his issues. You can write this memoir as if your spouse had been a great help or you can write it as if you had no spouse. Both of these are “unpopped” versions of your story. But, writing the truth about your spouse, as hard as it may be, will make for a memoir that can be very useful to a reader in the same situation—and the realness of the experience, the authenticity of the life lived will come through.

If your spouse was “not there,” how did you deal with the loneliness that must have ensued? How did you deal with the logistics of taking care of yourself if your spouse was mentally absent? And, how did this affect your relationship afterwards?

It’s easy to see that the answers to these questions are the very material that will make your memoir unique and authentic.

If one of the main values of memoir for the reader (in addition to entertainment) is its mentoring ability, then the memoir that does not dare tell the truth is possibly vapid—certainly, it cannot mentor. I think people are fascinated by the memoir genre because it gives them a glimpse into the human condition. If that glimpse is fuzzy or distorted, then of what value is the posturing that is trying to pass itself off as truth?

Here I am not suggesting that you tell cruel things about other people. I am not suggesting you tell things that were told you in secret, nor things that will get you in legal trouble if you shared them.

I am talking about the deeper truth that gives meaning and depth to a story, the truth that will pop your story open.

What would happen if you truly were willing to go about naked in your writing?


Exercise

1. What have you left out of your memoir that you are afraid to tell because you are afraid of what someone might say?

2. What would happen if you told the truth about your topic? Would the world end?

3. Giving yourself permission not to share your writing, write a story that contains the whole truth of your experience. Put the piece away for at least a week. A week later: reread your piece. Is making this truth public possible?

4. Show the piece to someone who is familiar with you. Ask her/him, what is missing from the whole truth of the story?

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Louis Ledoux and Marie Valiquet Marry

During his first decade in Canada, Louis did not marry. While his friend Adrien Sénécal was growing a family, Louis remained single, paying (one presumes) the bachelor tax. In the early 1670s, Louis moved from one settlement to another, but, by the end of the decade, he had become an habitant in Varennes where he would spend the rest of his life.

Louis Ledoux must have constructed at least a simple house for himself and, since one did not grow old alone in these times, for the woman he would sooner or later marry. Often the first farmhouse a man built consisted merely of logs with mud chinked between them. By the late 1670s, it had become customary for the floor not to be simply the ground as had been the custom in France—and in Canada at first—but to be of wood raised above the earth. In Canada, of course, the extreme cold had made earth floors very uncomfortable to live on as the frost settled in the earth and easily radiated through the floor of the structure. To many Europeans in the early days, it must have seemed that, with their earth floors, they were living little better than the “savages.”

It had been necessary for Louis to clear land for a house site and for farming—that is, to remove the maples and the pines and the scrub. These were chopped down by ax. Trees too big to fell by ax were girdled, stripped of a row of bark, and left to die. The clearings, still full of stumps, had to serve as fields. Sometimes, stumps were burned, sometimes they were hacked away and sometimes they were simply left to rot and worked around until they did.

On Sunday, February 19, 1679, before the Montréal notary Maugue, Louis entered into a marriage contract with Marie-Nicole Valiquet. At the time of the wedding contract, the notary Maugue had written of Louis that he was “banished from the Seigneurie of Cap de Varennes.” He also noted that Louis Ledoux had “been living in the said Montréal for eight months.” We have no more details of Louis’ banishment. By the next year, he is living in Varennes again.

How had Louis and Marie meet? Had the encounter occurred while Louis had been living in Montréal for the previous eight months rather than in his landholding in Varennes, and it is possible that it was during this time that he settled on Marie-Nicole Valiquet as the woman who would be his wife. Or, it is possible that he had known of her for a long time and had been waiting for her to grow up? Louis and Marie’s father, Jean Valiquet, were just about the same age, and both came from the same area in France: Louis from Le Mans in Maine and Jean from Le Lude in Anjou, perhaps thirty miles to the south of Le Mans. Marie-Nicole’s mother, Renée Lopée who unfortunately was deceased at the time of the contract signing, was from La Flèche also in Anjou, some ten miles to the northwest of Le Lude. Because of this, the three would have very likely spoken a patois that was quite similar, as might have Marie from growing up in that household. (Most people in New France at this time were fluent in both a regional French patois and in the franca lingua, the official French of government and church[1].

Born in Montréal on December 20, 1662, Marie-Nicole was the oldest of the seven children born to Jean Valiquet and Renée Loppé. Jean was then a widower with a houseful of children. While Marie’s marriage would have meant one person less for the widower to feed, it also took away an oldest daughter who must have served as surrogate mother to her siblings. That task, we can presume, would now fall on fourteen-year-old Elisabeth.

It is hard to imagine Marie-Nicole at sixteen eagerly entering into a marriage with the forty-year-old Louis. In the colony, a man had to be old enough to have launched a viable farm and built a house before he could responsibly marry. A woman, young at the time of her marriage, was likely to be stronger and more able to survive childbirth. For Marie to have married a man her age would have been unthinkable—condemning herself and her children to hunger and want. The age discrepancy between Louis and Marie-Nicole was not uncommon.

For the February 19 contract signing, Louis asked his friend and fellow Varennes farmer Adrien Sénécal (for whose eponymous son Louis had stood as godfather in Trois-Rivières in 1674) to serve as one of his witnesses. Witnesses on Marie’s side included Mathurin Langevin, her father’s cousin. Langevin, who had escaped death at the hands of the Iroquois in 1662, had done well in the colony and had been elected syndic to represent the colonists to the Montréal government.

At the time of the wedding contract, the notary Maugue had written of Louis that he was “banished from the Seigneurie of Cap de Varennes.” He also noted that Louis Ledoux had “been living in the said Montréal for eight months.”[2]

The Sulpician Gilles Perot, married the two on Monday, March 20, at the church of Notre Dame in Montréal. A missionary priest, Perot had celebrated mass for the people of the settlement[3] in the chapel of the Hôtel-Dieu before the parish of Notre Dame of Montréal had been canonically erected the previous October 30 (1678) with Father Perot as its first pastor[4], (Superior also of the Séminaire de Montréal, he was to die suddenly in the seminary yard on July 17, 1680, as he was getting ready to celebrate mass.)

At the nuptial mass, Father Perot would have preached perhaps of the need for the couple to be faithful to each other and to fulfill their responsibility to furnish children for the church and for the colony.

If a merrymaker came to the wedding mass to «nouer l’aiguillette» (tie the cord,) according to stories brought from Medieval France, the couple would not have children. The charm caster would take a cord and make three knots in it. Jean Valiquette and Mathurin Langevin’s cousin Marie Pontonier had been under the curse of the knotted cord, and she and her husband Pierre Gadois had not been been able to conceive children together. When their marriage was annulled and both remarried, they had children with their subsequent spouses. Obviously no one had “tied the knot” at these second wedding celebrations!

 


[1] That official French became the accent we know as French Canadian. This making uniform of the community’s language did not happen in France for perhaps another three centuries.

[2] We have no more details of Louis’ banishment. By the next year, he is living in Varennes again.

[3] The information on Perot comes from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Gilles Perot was the celebrant at the mass at the Hôtel-Dieu on March 25, 1674, when the Sulpician Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon preached a stinging sermon which Frontenac rightly assumed was aimed at him. Legal proceeding ensued against the Sulpician, leading to Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon’s removal to France. One did not mess with Frontenac.

[4] The foundation stone for the church building had been laid on June 30, 1672, in the presence of Governor Courcelle and Intendant Talon.

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Telling the Truth about your Life

“The telling of your stories is a revolutionary act.”

–Sam Keen, writer

In a world where we are constantly being bombarded with subtle–and not so subtle–messages about who we ought to be, it is a bold statement to take a stand for personal authenticity.

One of the most transformative statements an individual can make is to tell his/her story with honesty and objectivity. At its best, this is what a memoir is–a statement that declares “this is who I am, who I think of myself as being.”

Lest you think that telling the truth is only about revealing scandals and unmasking abuses, let me assure you that it is more often about smaller issues, issues more within the realm of the everyday experience. Perhaps you were never ambitious of worldly success. This has embarrassed you but you would like to make a statement for another set of values other than financial success. Or, perhaps you have been attracted to people of your own gender and would like to bear witness to that but still fear repercussions. Or, perhaps you were a parent but, if the truth be told, you and your children might have been better off if you had not parented. As you can see, “telling the truth” need not be earth shattering, but it is about incredibly essential features of ourselves.

The daring part of this “telling the truth” work occurs strongly at the beginning of the writing–when the “juices are flowing.” It is then that you ask, “Do I dare say this?” You get nervous and feel yourself sweat. You get up from the computer many times and can’t believe that you are actually writing what you are writing. But, you persevere and later the piece of writing becomes one you work and rework and the fear of telling the truth seems to diminish, to be come less visceral.

Later, however, as you make your writing public–i.e., publish it or share it with others, you tremble at the boldness once again of telling the truth of your life, the truth that may not be consonant with norms of society or family expectations. Others–an audience you both craved and did not know would be so intimidating–will now judge you. You fear this audience will not only judge your choices but your very essence as a person.

This moment of judgement is, more than any other time I believe, when writers fear being found insignificant.

But, if insignificance there be, I say–and I hope you will too–“Let it be MY insignificance! Let me stand proudly for who I am.”

Therein lies the challenge of telling the truth. It can revolutionize your life by placing you at its center. Not a bad place to be at all! 

Your task this week: write a story that is scary for you to write. Tell yourself, for the moment, you are writing only for yourself and it’s alright if no one else ever sees that story.

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Albert and I Decide to Marry

From We Were Not Spoiled, the memoir of Lucille Verreault Ledoux as told to Denis Ledoux.

In February of 1944, Albert was given a seventeen-day furlough and, during that time, we became engaged to marry. We did not set a date, but we talked of a wedding that summer. At the time, he had left the program in Venice, Florida, and was at Daniel Field[1] in Augusta, Georgia. The Army Air Force sent a lot of their planes there to be repaired or maintained. It was a good place for Albert since he was training to service aircraft. He would not be going to the front lines, we presumed, but would service airplanes in safe places. Daniel Field was one such place where he might spend the rest of his military service. The Army Air Force called this “limited service.” Men on limited service stayed in the US.

Albert Ledoux, 1943Mississippi Base

Albert Ledoux, 1943
Army Air Corp Base in Mississippi

My brother Marcel had been discharged from the army because he had had a ruptured appendix. He had spent three or four months away—some of it in basic training and some of it in the hotel on the beach in Miami the army had housed soldiers in. After he was discharged, he came home and worked as a salesman and was going out with Jeannette Lagacé. Before Albert and I could set our own date, they announced their wedding plans for July 4. We were disappointed because we didn’t want to crowd them out by getting married, too, around the same time. So, we put off choosing a date for ourselves. Our wedding would have to take place later in the season now.

***

By the summer, Albert had left Daniel Field and was stationed in Syracuse, New York. He was still on what they called limited service, which meant service in the US only. He was able to get a furlough for the weekend of the Fourth, and he and I attended Marcel and Jeannette’s wedding together. He wore his uniform for the day and, except for that reminder of the war going on, it might have been a normal day when two young people who were going to marry were attending a relative’s wedding. He told me he had another furlough scheduled at Labor Day, but we did not think at that time of getting married in September because, in spite of being classified as being on limited service, he had a feeling that he might get sent overseas. If he went overseas, who knows what might happen to him and so we thought it would be better to wait until he got out of the service—certainly until he returned from overseas.

I was almost 23 and Albert was 22 so we could wait to get married. We had been going out for about three years so we were ready to make the next move, but we just continued to wait for the right moment. We did not want to marry and risk starting a family during a war. We could not help but be aware that Lucille Dulac’s husband George Bergeron was missing. He was in a prisoner-of-war camp although I don’t think she—or we—knew he was alive and in captivity then.


[1] Daniel Field was a commercial airport that was taken over by the military in 1941 and used as an Army airbase. The facilities became a repair and replacement depot for Third Air Force aircraft. Albert was training to service aircraft.

_________

DL — Do you have WWII, getting married stories from your grandparents/parents? Please share it with us below.

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