Miles Davis once said: “You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” For me this is true in writing. It has taken me a long time to write like myself. In other words, to find my voice. But once small glimmers of it appear, an exciting voyage begins.
Writer Lee Kofman says, ‘the universal is in the particular.’
At her writing workshop recently, I discovered that the image of my father wearing his pajamas under his clothes to the shops in the 1960s gave the reader a unique picture of him. It showed what he was like and many other crusty fathers like him. Once I was comfortable with that image, I could write a scene. I made the connection between my own propensity for staying in my dressing gown all day and my father’s infuriating sartorial insouciance. From there I had the makings of a short father-daughter story.
Lee asked for the particulars, because everyone she says ‘identifies with eccentricity’. I’d found my image and thus its means of expression. In other words, the words to tell my story came naturally.
To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, the writer’s job is to look for the ‘universal thread’ that connects us all.
My advice to memoirists? Keep writing. Keep searching for that special image that leads to a scene that is unique to you. The voice to describe it will come.