“Writing the Hawaii Memoir” by Darien Gee

Writing the Hawaii Memoir

We all have experiences, memories, and life lessons that are worth sharing. That’s the foundation of “Writing the Hawai’i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story” (2014) by author and writing workshop instructor Darien Gee.

I’ve been writing down anecdotes, conversations, and memories for most of my life. There are lost diaries from my elementary school years, college-ruled journal entries from high school, odd conversations with myself for English language assignments, digital pages of everyday life, and currently a “one line a day” five-year memory book. But until now, I haven’t considered putting it together for others to read.

“Writing the Hawai’i Memoir” is a handbook to help people tell the stories of their lives – whether through memoirs, family history projects, biographies, school projects, person essays, or journal entries. It emphasizes that all of our lives are meaningful. There are personal stories, writing prompts and exercises, and a list of additional resources covering everything from getting started and revising your work to getting feedback and publication – and writing the next story.

With easy-to-read suggestions, practical advice, and encouraging exercises, Gee gives us the confidence and tools we need to begin a memoir – and finish it. Here are six important reminders:

  1. Start wherever you are.
  2. Biographies and autobiographies are based on fact; memoirs are based on memories and moments.
  3. Write the truth of the story. If your memory differs from the facts, acknowledge it.
  4. A memoir is not about the event itself, but what you did in response and how it changed you or didn’t.
  5. Just because it happened doesn’t mean you have to write about it.
  6. First drafts, no matter how awful, are good. Now you have something to work with and revise.

Gee includes issues and concerns specific to Hawai’i writers, such as the use of pidgin English, a local culture that generally downplays achievements and embarrassments. Some of the writing exercises have a clear Hawaiian inspiration, such as the “Bento Box” exercise and the “Pua Petal” character technique (both of which can be downloaded free from the Legacy Isle Publishing website). There is even a list of memoir themes to help us get started.

Here are just a few of the writing exercises and advice that Gee offers, for each step of your writing:

* Start with why. Why am I writing my memoir? Why now? How would I feel if I didn’t write my memoir? How will I when I finish writing my memoir?

* Remember when. Look through old photos, letters, journals, yearbooks, and mementos. Write “I remember…” thoughts. Jot down your firsts – first car, first kiss, first airplane ride, first time you got into trouble…

* Three words. Describe yourself in three words to different people – an employer, a landlord, a blind date, children, your grandchildren, the President of the United States.

* Contemplate the worst. List 5 things you don’t want to write about or feel you shouldn’t write about. Then take the first item on the list and take 10 minutes to write about the worst thing that could happen if you did write about it.

* Reflect on your values. Choose 10 values that reflect you and write a personal essay for each of them, demonstrating why it is significant to you.

“No one can write the book you are going to write,” Gee states. Most of the time, what I write is just for me. Sometimes I wonder whether my son would like to read about his early years. Sometimes I hope that no one reads what I wrote when I was younger and more self-involved. “Writing the Hawai’i Memoir” has made me feel more purposeful and thoughtful about my writing.

 

Note: After writing a “Six-Word Memoir” (one of the writing exercises in this book), I won “Writing the Hawai’i Memoir” from Legacy Isle Publishing. They didn’t ask me to review the book.

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