Write It All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink
This book is subtitled “How to put your life on the page” and is a guide, encouragement and even friend in the process of writing your memoirs. This is a book that takes the reader through the entire process, from Preparation, Excavation, through Crafting and Editing to Getting Work Done. These are the main sections of the book, which give the basics of writing the story of a life, or part of it. It would work well for someone intending to seek publication (although there are no technical details of publishers etc), as well as someone seeking to construct a book for a more limited audience. Not that it expects everyone to sit and write flowingly before a quick tidy and submission; this book is far more detailed and realistic than that. It looks at the difficulties of getting started on a project that may have seemed attractive for a considerable time, but has been put off for many incidental reasons like waiting for a new laptop, the right setting, or the myriad other reasons for not actually writing. It also has encouraging words for finding time in a busy life, ideas for inspiration when stuck, and how to cope when Times are Tough. As an experienced writer of memoirs and fiction herself, the author has a track record for not only managing her own writing when distracted by circumstances but also leading workshops and other sessions. Rentzenbrink is above all honest and realistic in this book, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
One of this book’s great strengths is the realistic knowledge that writing something, even the stories of one’s own life which should be well known, is neither easy nor straightforward. While immense research such as that required by committed historical fiction writing, for example, is not required, it is recognised that a would-be writer of memoirs does need stimulation to remember and capture the moments. It suggests the collection of photographs and small souvenirs to trigger memories. It looks at exercises to write lists of places which may help structure writing a life story, as well a list of memories which may well not be included in the finished piece, but can help to trigger the process of remembering the useful points. It suggests the need for thinking through what to write that need not take place in front of a screen or with pen in hand, the process of seemingly doing nothing until thoughts are sorted. This is a book which suggests that real courage is needed in order to write the truth of memory in a way that will work for other people. It helps with examples of how to write an incident without distraction or surplus information; giving an indication of how easy it is to be led off on a completely different path or constructing a different atmosphere from the central memory. This book is the work of a writer who has produced four previous books which have been successful, as well as reading a phenomenal amount herself (as detailed in “Dear Reader”). She knows of what she writes!
This book also includes a section of Further Reading, listing the books on Writing,and the memoirs which have inspired Rentzenbrink, via the most significant lines. She has An Inspiring Addendum, which consists of paragraphs of advice from well known writers who have published their own memoirs among other books, such as Matt Haig and Lucy Mangan. Altogether this is an immensely helpful book for anyone who has ever considered writing from their life, or indeed anyone who has thought about writing a significant length piece. It has advice, encouragement and the basic truth, that it is all about actual writing something down which is vital.