Author and memoir coach Marion Roach Smith talks about the importance of using your story and leveraging that to make sure that you can serve an audience with it. And she also talks about writing with intent rather than using writing prompts.
Marion Roach Smith is a four-time, mass-market published writer and frequent public radio commentator.
Three weeks out of college, Marion went to work for The New York Times. Four books and countless magazine and radio essays later, the lessons learned at that great newspaper – getting it right and making it short – inform every piece she writes. Most of her work is now in the form of memoir writing, including her most recent book, The Memoir Project, A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text on Writing & Life, which came out with Grand Central Publishing in 2011.
For fifteen years Marion has taught Writing What You Know. Much of her work includes a large helping of memoir, including the books The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Sexual Power of Red Hair, (Bloomsbury, 2005) and Another Name for Madness, (Houghton Mifflin, 1985) and her commentaries for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Marion has written for The New York Times Magazine, Prevention, Vogue, Good Housekeeping, The Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere.
(03:11) When you hear the word “success,” who’s the first person that comes to mind, and why?
Writer William Kennedy
(05:24) Marion’s background
(07:25) It’s obviously telling that your parents were influential and impactful.
(09:13) I’m excited to be part of your Masterclass because, to build that community is tough. It’s tough to have the right people in your corner.
(11:40) You’re in the observation business. Did you grow up with this kind of self-awareness? This ability to capture these experiences throughout your life, good and bad, that have translated to the written word?
Adversity can frequently be the mother of invention.
(15:10) Not only was that this huge career moment for you as a young woman and as a young writer. How often were you writing at that point? Were you writing on a consistent basis, or did that spur you into the writing process?
(16:34) It strikes me that that process must have been a pretty therapeutic thing for you to go through, especially with how close you were to your mother and father. Is that true or is that some kind of a byproduct of going through this process?
If you really hit these big topics with a hammer and try to write them, they are tremendously therapeutic because they are so giving of self-knowledge.
(20:07) You think of writing as math, and then you have this algorithm that helps you go from that larger, thematic thing that grabs people into illustrating it. Can you talk about that process?
It’s about X, as illustrated by Y, to be told in a Z.
(22:04) One of the things I think about a lot when drawing upon these moments in my life and hope I can make into a great theme that would resonate with readers is this, I want to be vulnerable but also at the same time I feel this sense of pulling back and being respectful to family. I wonder if you deal with that a lot with students, and what would you say to somebody who’s struggling with that to get over the hump?
There are consequences to writing, as there should be. Some of them are good, and some of them you’re going to have to learn to live with.
(26:43) In preparation, I was thinking through all these things in my head as a writer that I struggle with when I’m putting pen to paper. The other thing is, I’m interested in your opinion on story versus technical writing ability.
Structure by John McPhee on The New Yorker
(30:00) Do you have a morning routine or a writing routine? What does that look like?
(31:43) It seems like there’s almost 3 aspects to the writing process: idea generation, writing, editing. When you write, are you editing the same piece later on that day, or is it a different piece that you’re focused on?
Perfectionism is the death of creativity.
(33:54) I was watching the film adaptation of the book Genius, that chronicles Maxwell Perkins’ life…. They made it seem like Thomas Wolfe just was this he could write for days and hours. In contrast, they had F. Scott Fitzgerald who struggled to get a sentence out. Is that typical with writers?
(36:04) We have a bunch of people in our audience who probably are not writers but whom I feel need to gain ownership over their story… What is your advice for those who aren’t writers but who probably need to use the writing process to better get a feel for themselves to be more productive and more fulfilled?
Ask yourself: What just happened here?
(39:14) What are the 3 books that you would recommend to the audience that have most impacted you as a writer or as a person?
- Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
- The Dog That Bit People By James Thurber
- Frank Sinatra Has A Cold by Gay Talese
(41:30) I’m curious with the Gay Talese piece. What determines whether or not a piece is the best ever? Is it the popularity or is it just the way the words flow in that piece?
(42:29) Are there any documentaries that have moved you? What would you recommend?
(42:48) If you could have dinner with one person you admire, past or present, who would it be and why?
(43:49) I’m attempting to read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
Marion’s website: http://marionroach.com