“The more memories you have, the more you’ve lived.”
That’s what author Patricia Bosworth told a group of women writers at the most recent Girls Write Now workshop, which took place at GWN headquarters last Saturday, December 8. It was an apt thing to say because the workshop’s focus was on memoir—specifically, family memoir.
Bosworth, a memoirist, biographer and editor, spoke about the path that led her to become a writer—after acting on Broadway for 10 years, she worked at Magazine Management, where she formed a friendship and mentorship with then-unknown author Mario Puzo—and about the painstaking and painful process she undertook to write “Anything Your Little Heart Desires: An American Family Story.” The book chronicles the career of Bosworth’s father and her relationship with him.
“This book took me 40 years to write,” Bosworth proclaimed. Though it had its genesis in journals that Bosworth scribbled while sitting in her dressing room for Mary, Mary, it wasn’t until decades later that she felt she finally had the writing skills to turn it into a book, and another decade after that to reconstruct the narrative of her father’s career and the emotional impact it had on her. The sheer amount of time over which this book evolved, and Bosworth’s persistence throughout, reminded me to be patient with my own writing and to recognize that writing is a craft honed over a lifetime.
While that may sound daunting, Bosworth’s talk and the remainder of the workshop also offered inspiration to the writers in the room. One activity instructed us to describe a memorable family moment or tradition; another asked us to write a character sketch of a family member. Everyone’s pens were moving: we all have family traditions, we’ve all heard legends of grandparents and great-grandparents, we all expect to hear certain stories every holiday. What this workshop helped us discover was that those personal memories can become stories with a larger purpose and a broad audience. For the rest of the workshop we practiced techniques for doing just that: creating compelling characters by carefully selecting the details we use to describe them, recreating scenes through all the five senses and sharing why these stories are important to us.
I’m excited to try my hand at memoir, but truthfully I don’t know if I have enough memories yet—if I’ve lived enough. One thing I am going to do, though, is follow a piece of advice Bosworth gave us: keep a journal to record the experiences, impressions and characters of my life. By the time I accumulate my book of memories, I hope, too, to have the tools to turn them into a story.