Getting Started and Finding Your Voice: Writing in First (or Third person)
By Kachina Riley
Actually, getting started with committing my words into written form was the greatest barrier and most difficult part to writing my first manuscript.
Following years of consideration and procrastination of writing my memoir, I finally determined to “set my hand to the pen” so to speak. But all of my years of writing had been in academics, and I realized I had a learning curve to bridge the gulf into personal manuscript writing.
My Son, Daryl was working for Barnes and Nobel at the time and he graciously supplied me with several books for beginning writers. I was very acquainted with research into a topic from my many years in academic pursuit. This seemed a reasonable place to start.
I read these books and devoured many more similar books from the library over the next several months. Six months into my new project I was thoroughly overwhelmed and confused! No two authors on the subject seemed to be on the same page as to the best method to begin writing memoirs.
While one author advocated making an outline of the book I envisioned, another insisted that listing all of the important life events and organizing them chronologically would certainly start me off on the right foot.
Some authors indicated that memoirs should be written in the third person in order to give the writer more latitude in filling in the blanks of forgotten memory details. Others insisted that first person was the only legitimate method of writing a memoir.
For about a year I struggled with starts, and more starts, trying this method then changing to another method. I even consulted with two editors who gave me their input as well. They all gave good reasons why a beginning author should do it their way. But nothing meshed or seemed to fit perfectly for me. In frustration I discarded all of them and was ready to give up my memoir writing project.
In one last ditch effort I asked my son to read some of my beginning efforts. He did and he encouraged me not to throw in the towel before I tried one last idea he had.
He suggested that I begin in the first chapter by sharing the most traumatic event in my childhood. He said that writing in the first person may bring out the passion of the event and jump start my writing efforts. Then follow with the years and months that led up to that event. He pointed out that I had already spent over a year of my time and effort in trying to write my manuscript and that this one last try was a reasonable effort.
My mother’s first psychotic breakdown was the event I set my hand and heart to write about. I began fresh with chapter one and was immediately swept up in this most emotional, heart-rending event in my life! The feelings and emotions captured my mind and heart as the details flooded back to my memory, as if the event were happening to me again in that instant. The words flowed out of my mind and into my manuscript like a rushing brook that couldn’t be halted. I was at that moment the nine-year-old child experiencing that event again.
This chapter set the tone for the remainder of my memoir and it was definitely in the first person. As I wrote from my childhood into adulthood my first person voice matured along with my age advancement in the book.
My experience in getting started leads me to recommend (for first time writers) that you not get bogged down trying to figure out what method is correct. Although reading a variety of viewpoints may be helpful in the end you must follow your gut reactions as to what will work for you.
The trick is to trust your own instincts and begin writing, even if you go through a number of re-writes, each re-write will serve to hone your writing skills to produce a more readable and professional manuscript.
Tattered Phoenix is a heroic, real-life American memoir of one woman’s brave fight for success in the last half of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1940s, author Kachina Riley details her family’s brave struggles against mental illness, illiteracy, and other health issues. In the end she achieves upward mobility beyond anyone’s expectations, earning two master’s degrees and breaking free from the limitations of her Appalachian roots to become a highly respected professional social worker and a world traveler. She is forced to fight her way through many challenges along the way as she rises from the ashes, torn but never beaten. In many ways, Ms. Riley’s story is the story of our nation evolving into what it is today. Tattered Phoenix will rekindle memories for anyone who grew up in America during the post-war era.
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Genre – Memoir
Rating – PG13