For years, as I conducted various writing workshops, I would hear the frustration of people who wanted to write their memoir but became bogged down in the immensity of the project.
The story would go something like this: "I started writing, all excited with the idea, then as I continued I wasn't sure what should come next, what is worth writing about and how can I ever write about all of my life?"
Invariably, the writing would stop, the memoir collection only an unfulfilled dream.
As a facitator of writing workshops, as an encourager, this problem that people were having lingered in my mind. I tried to encourage persistence and shared some tips and ideas. I wasn't sure if any of that was helpful.
In the summer of 2002 I was doing a little research on the Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata. I had read some of his novels and wanted to learn more about the person behind the writing. I came across a reference to his "Palm-of-the-Hand" stories that he had written most of his life. I was intrigued and ordered a copy of the book, "Palm-of-the-Hand Stories" (North Point Press, 2006.)
When the book arrived I immediately delved into it. The collection of seventy short, short fiction pieces intrigued me. While reading these one, two, three page-long works the thought of memoir writing entered my mind. Maybe this was a way to approach memoir writing?
I remember closing the book and dwelling about how this could relate to memoir writing. I focused on Kawabata's use of the short, short story format. So much was contained within this minimal form, so much conveyed in these few words. Not unlike haiku, a form of poetry I often wrote. Most people, as I heard it, were discouraged by the complexity of writing about one's life. What if the process was simplified? What if one wrote about a particular experience of their life as opposed to a memoir of a significant portion of their life? Wouldn't these individual experiences add up to a life?
An idea is just an idea until put into practice. I contacted the Canastota, NY Public Library and they booked a series of four memoir workshops that I would facilitate. The workshops were more than successful! We actually extended the series to seven sessions. Some wonderful writing came from the process, but more importantly, the idea worked for all of the participants. Sometime later I facilitated another series at the Yates County Arts Council in Penn Yan, NY. Once again the method worked extremely well in helping people to write about their lives.
Since that first series of workshops in Canastota, more than seven years ago, I've facilitated scores of Palm of the Hand Memoir Workshops and there has not been even one that has failed to help participants in their writing. It is a method that works and I'm always excited about presenting it to a new group of writers.