Cullen Thomas - My Memoir Instructor

Cullen Thomas – My Memoir Instructor

I want to learn and grow. Still, in my seventh decade.(That sounds really old, doesn’t it?!)

Which means putting myself into a learning environment, like the Gotham Writers Workshop, where I am thoroughly enjoying the memoir class I’m enrolled in.

This is my instructor, Cullen Thomas, author of Brother One Cell, an amazing memoir of his time spent in a Korean prison from ages 22 – 25. He’s a terrific guide for the dozen of us who meet every Wednesday from 7-10pm, inspiring me to read a list of recommended volumes, magazine and newspaper articles, and even watch the Noam Chomsky documentary called Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? which I can only pretend to comprehend.

Last Wednesday night I was ‘in the booth’, which meant that all the other writers dissected the 25 pages of manuscript I’d handed them the week before and gave me their feedback.

I own up to pushing my way into the Memoir II class without having the prerequisite Memoir I. Since I’d already written two books, blogged for six years and been married to an English teacher for decades, I felt qualified to skip that step. That said, I have found myself a bit short on the writers’ vocabulary being used in the critiquing discussions–like creating a major dramatic question (MDQ, even) for instance.

Mostly the feedback was extremely positive. In order to get over the couple of painful criticisms, I thought I’d share three of the highs and lows with you.

BTW, I don’t think my memoir is for everyone. If you haven’t done any self-examination in your life, it may be out of your comfort zone as I leave no rock unturned in looking at my own behavior and its ill-effects on me and everyone around me. Anyway, here are three gems that will help me get over myself AND keep me right-sized:

  • It reads like a friend complaining to another friend. [Ouch, that was the worst.]
  • Too favorably biased [helpful critique of my describing a marketing piece I’d had developed for my eggs as ‘well-written’]
  • Great paragraph, love how you capture those very telling moments and how you connect them to your own behaviors. I think people are reading memoirs for validations like these. [my favorite]

Tomorrow night is Session 5, halfway through the class. I’m already anticipating how I’ll continue on come January. I need structure, colleagues and deadlines. What’s keeping you on track these days?

(BTW, I took this photo particularly because I loved Cullen’s t-shirt. Under Shakespeare’s image is the quote: This s**t writes itself.)


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