"It’s never too late for a happy childhood." –A popular bumper sticker
We are always writing from the past. Everything but this very moment is memory. In fiction and nonfiction alike we create stories from what we remember. Just so with life, we live off our past . . . everything we thought, chose, did and ignored got us to here. Pretty powerful really, when you think about it.
Think about it.
"Everything," as John Muir said, "is connected to everything else." For the writer we want to make sure that our narrative and all the dramas and events connect. In memoir we can't just report what happened. We have to have many entry points and narratives to help the reader stay with our story. We have to show them the connections (not tell them). We have to trust ourselves as we listen in on our past.
Many nonfiction writers ask about what Voice and perspective to use: the one from the past or the one writing the story in the present? My answer is: both!
You have two voices and perspectives when writing memoir or autobiographical pieces -- the one who had the experience and the one I refer to as the Wisdom Keeper. The one having the experience is written from what you knew or didn't know then, what you experienced then. The past voice will be almost all show and no tell . . . though, you will have thoughts to share as your past self. The Wisdom Keeper Voice gets to slip in that wisdom from the present -- something you know now that you didn't know then (likely a hell of a lot!). The Wisdom Keeper Voice holds the hand of the reader, they feel you there as they read. They know you are likely going to make it through most your troubles but the reader doesn't know how. You don't point out to the reader these two distinct voices, you simply hold them in your consciousness as you write. You know when you are writing from the past; and, you know when you are writing using the wisdom accumulated from all your experiences. The reader will hear the difference. Sometimes you will refer to this present day wisdom, but don't hit the reader over the head with this.
In fiction, your characters may have these two perspectives as well, and as the writer you will distinguish these for the reader.
A good practice is to contemplate the present scene of your life or the life of a fictional character in lieu of the past. What did it take to get here?
Go ahead, take a look. I have a hold of your hand.
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
your thoughts become your words,
your words become your actions,
your actions become your habits,
your habits become your values,
your values become your destiny. –Mahatma Gandhi
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Julie lives in Mount Horeb WI where she walks her dog through Stewart Park, gardens her corner lot, attends yoga at Bliss Flow Yoga in Madison and waits for spring 11 months of the year. She is author of The Zero Point Agreement & ten other books. She also writes for the local Mount Horeb paper and in her free time listens in on others' conversations at Sjolinds.