For so many writers of life stories, the container is the hardest part. Where to start? Where to end? Our lives are too big, if they are any good, to be contained in a box of a story. Furthermore, if we are alive to tell it, we can assume that the lives are still going – and how to you solve a problem like that? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
There is a safety in form, a reason why stores like The Container Store exist and flourish, even while more useful stores quickly fail. Our lives are big and getting bigger. Seeking containers for our experiences and the fragments of our lives is a way to make sense of our days and our stories—to make them small enough to understand, share, and process. Brenda Miller observed, “For some writers, especially beginning writers, the conscious use of form can sometimes be the only way certain kinds of truths can be approached at all.”
Myth is a container. Using the backbone of myth and fairy tales is an intuitive way to contain a story. Theme is one way. Decade is another. Place, too: chapter by chapter, each one a different city or country. Hemingway planned to write a book about each thing he knew a lot about. But we are not Hemingway. We are our own people writing about our own lives. And memoir writing is like personhood: for each memoir, there can be only one memoirist who could have written it.
Try this: Return to an earlier piece of free-writing and underline the parts that pop out or interest you. Then look at your list of myths (from last month). Choose a myth as a writing prompt to continue the story you have begun.