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“Memoir writing – that’s what others do,” I said to myself.

“I have to admit it might be interesting to hear what Trevor has to say about memoir writing. You never know what might lie ahead. Maybe one day I will want to write a memoir.”

“Yeah right, Marica!!!! Who do you think you’re kidding.”

Back in March I had the privilege to spend time with Trevor Romain. He was one of the invited keynote speakers at Blog Hui 2006.

During the actual conference I was responsible for introducing Trevor before his keynote address. I decided to stray away from the typical introduction. The night before, Trevor had gifted Lynsey and I one of his books which he had written and illustrated. It told the story of a young man’s search for the secret of life. The story is beautifully told and is very thought provoking. I decided to read it to the participants at the conference. After all, what better way to introduce Trevor than through an example of his work.

“Okay, its story time everyone,” I said. “Get comfortable because I am going to read you Trevor’s book Under the Big Sky.”

As I said these words I was suddenly transported back to a time when I regularly read aloud to my children. These were special memories and special times. So was this moment in time.

The room went silent. Everyone waited. I began …

Under the Big Sky

Trevor has made this book available on his blog.

It has been split up into three parts. If you follow the links below you can read the story for yourself.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

As I read, I looked at the roomful of people in front of me; everyone was engaged. In fact I would go so far as to say they were mesmerised. Who said adults don’t enjoy a good story?

Trevor’s presentation was itself a memorable experience. Not one person left the room the same as when they had entered it. We were all touched in some way through our exposure to this gifted man. Dare I say it, a number were moved to tears (and not just the females!)

“We can take technology, and we can take soul, and we can put them together, ” said Trevor. To the educators in the room this was a powerful suggestion. Technology and soul are not normally thought of as natural bedfellows. What a challenge; one which Trevor seems to have been able to put into practice successfully if his blog is anything to go by.

Some of us were lucky enough to be able to learn more from Trevor because he presented two post-conference workshops: one on writing memoirs, and the other was on writing, publishing and marketing books for children.

One thing remains constant about our humanity – that we must never stop trying to tell stories of who we think we are. Just as important, we must never stop wanting to listen to each other’s stories. If we ever stopped, it would all be over. Everything we are as human beings would be reduced to a lost book floating in the universe, with no one to remember us, no one to know we once existed.
Ruth Behar in Ethnography and the book that was lost, page 17.

Trevor having a quick look at this notesHere are ten things I took away with me from the Memoir Writing Workshop.

1. Everyone has a story

A common held perception is that “my story is not worthy of being told”, and “no one would be interested in reading my story”.

Life is all about stories. We need to share our stories or we risk them being lost.

Trevor read out his story, published in Danny Gregory’s blog, about how he came to give up his job in advertising to begin a new life as an unpublished children’s author and illustrator.

Every life is a story. Telling the story and seeing our life as story are part of the creative process… Our life becomes a story that we are always in the process of discovering and fashioning, a story in which we both follow and lead – a story that grips us with necessity, possesses us unmercifully, and yet, paradoxically, that we create and recreate.
Deena Metzger, Writing for Your Life, page 49.

2. Write for ten minutes EVERY day

You must be disciplined about this. Write for no more or no less that ten minutes. Do it every day. This helps you to get into the flow of writing. Don’t worry about what you write. Just get it down on paper. Eventually you will find that your writing will sort itself out.

3. Learn to see and then write about it

Life is rich with stories. Open your eyes, and ears, and become aware. Use all your senses to capture the details of what you are experiencing. Practicing awareness is essential to a writer. You will find that the familiar will no longer be familiar. It is as though the fog starts to lift and you are seeing things for the first time. Every experience is unique and worthy of having attention paid to it. Breathe in the detail so you can draw on this information later.

Write about what you are seeing. Capture the moment and let your writing lead you wherever it wants to take you.

Try looking at things from another point of view as you write.

As you become more aware you start to see the magic in your own life.

We are the authorities on our worlds, and it is by observing its details … that we convey it.
Tristine Rainer in Your Life as Story, page 136.

Read Conversation.


4. Keep sentences short and write in small chunks

Write in bite sized pieces. By keeping sentences short you keep the story moving. Don’t overwrite because this becomes far too tedious for the reader.

Listening5. Find your voice and use it

Your writing voice is the particular style you use to express yourself. It is your natural voice – the one that reflects you. To find this voice you need to write from within and do it your way. Remember you may not find your voice immediately. You need to keep writing and give it time to emerge.

6. Use triggers

A trigger is something that will jog your memory so that you are able to write at a later point in time. It could be one word, a series of keywords, a one-liner, a drawing or some kind of object. Record as much information as you may need to trigger the memory of that event, experience, or thought. Carry a notebook with you to record these triggers. This notebook will become an invaluable resource for your writing.

7. Get down the bare bones

When you write begin by writing down the bare bones of what you want to say. You can flesh it out with details later.

Make sure you express emotion. Sensory information must be present throughout your writing. Let your story unfold naturally. As you write you start to think of other things that are relevant so be free and open to this process.

Don’t edit as you write. Just write. Worry about editing later because it will slow down the writing process.

Keep moving with your thoughts and write until there is nothing left to say.

Don’t judge what you have written until much later.

Trevor's three keys to writing8. Trevor’s three keys to writing

(i) You must have a sentence at the beginning which sets the scene.

The hardest thing to write can be the first sentence.

Trevor uses the slap in the face method. You need to grab the reader’s attention immediately: either in the first sentence, or the first paragraph, or by the end of the first page.

Trevor used the following excerpt from Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (page 3) to illustrate the effectiveness of this slap in the face method.

Rhodesia, 1976
Mum says, “Don’t come creeping into our room at night.”
They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, “Don’t startle us when we’re sleeping.”
“Why not?”
“We might shoot you.”
“By mistake.”
“Okay.” As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose. “Okay, I won’t.”

(ii) Find the drama in what you are writing.

Your writing needs to be infused with drama: in the beginning, the middle, and the end of your story.

Conflict is a vital part of this dramatic development. The resultant change can be signalled in numerous ways. It is best to do this as simply as possible so that it is obvious to the reader what is happening.

(iii) See the movie in your mind and describe it.

Imagine your writing is a series of movie scenes. Stop and think about each scene. What do you see? Write it down.

Read How Sweet It Was, Lest I forget, More hope, and Ferdie.

9. Become a blogger

Blogging helps your writing. It has had a profound impact on Trevor’s writing. There is the discipline of writing regularly. You also start to feel a responsibility to the people who are reading your blog. This drives you to keep writing. You receive feedback on your writing which can be very encouraging. You learn and improve all the time.

Trevor’s blog has become the basis of the memoir he is writing.

10. Mental Crop rotation

Trevor always works on more than one story at a time. This keeps his ideas and energy flowing in his writing. He describes this as mental crop rotation.


Trevor also suggested that it was useful to read other people’s memoirs to see the diversity of writing styles and to see what works and what doesn’t from your perspective.

I came away feeling totally enthused and energised. This was an incredible learning experience for me. Thank you Trevor.

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2 Responses to “Ten things I learnt about writing from Trevor Romain”

  1. on 03 May 2006 at 3:33 am pdigh

    what a rich, dense, wonderful posting. you’ve given me many paths to go down just from these words. many thanks.

  2. […] Marica has an excellent summary of the wisdom Trevor Romain shared with us at the Blog Hui Writer’s Workshops.  I am not in any of the photos* […]

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