From High-Tech to Arctic Circle – and Peacocks Too!
Margaret Agard is right up there among my memoir-writing heroes –with not just one memoir, but two and a half under her belt. (Number Three is currently in the works, and she’s contemplating a possible Book Four!)
Her life has included plenty of memoir-worthy turns and twists. A single mother of eight, Margaret finished her math degree while working full-time, and eventually became one of the few early female executives in the high-tech industry. It was predictably overwhelming.
“Each of those roles — parenting, studying, working — was a full-time job,” Margaret remembers. “Even if I’d been capable of working 24-hour days, I couldn’t have done all that needed doing.”
That’s when this “by the numbers” lady’s life took an unexpected turn. Reaching deep into her religious faith, Margaret decided to turn her unmanageable life over to God. The result? Amazing, she says. “My fast paced slowed down. My life and finances smoothed out. I was finished every night by 8 p.m.” That’s the journey Margaret chronicles in her first memoir, “In His Footsteps: I Gave My To Do List To Got and Got More Done, More Sleep and Less Stress.”
A second marriage added seven more step-children to the family. And now Margaret’s life soon veered in a whole new direction. Quitting her prestigious, high-paying job, she spent three years serving with her husband as missionaries, much of it in an Inuit village north of the Arctic Circle — where “Spring” arrives in June or later, with the break-up of the ice on the ocean.
“Predictably, I ended up overwhelmed all over again,” she laughs. Her solution? “Turning it over to God again.” That experience became memoir Number Two: “In His Footsteps: Emails From The Mission Field; Things I Learned While Serving.”
Margaret’s memoirs detail not only her struggles but also the joys she discovered along the way. Screaming peacocks that her new husband (unfortunately) adored. An attitude-filled teenage son she loved, but “didn’t like much.” A friend who shared not only words of wisdom but an abiding affection for the color purple.
Right now, Margaret is hard at work on her third memoir (about love and marriage) from her Florida home beside a lake – purely a viewing lake, she’s quick to point out, not a swimming one. “Because, well, alligators.”
That quirky, self-deprecating humor is why I think you’ll love her writing, too.
Margaret kindly shares her memoir writing tips with us in the Q&A below!
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Memoir Writing Tips – Q&A With Margaret:
Q: How did you get started writing your first memoir? What made you want to put your experience down on paper? And then what prompted you to want to write the second and third books?
I ended up on a private blogging site, Open Diary. I wrote short pieces, long pieces. Pieces about being a church Relief Society president taking care of the needs of people; pieces about the good and bad of my new marriage. I paid attention to how people responded to those pieces, when they got confused, were especially engaged, or loved what I wrote. That was my training ground as a writer. Those pieces became the basis of my memoirs.
Why three books? A memoir, unlike an autobiography, is a slice of a person’s life with an arc related to that slice. I saw my life as a crystal with different facets, with each memoir focused on only one of those facets. Other memoirists might consider that as they look at their full life experiences. Instead of trying to jam it all into one book, consider writing more than one, like Dani Shapiro or Ann Lamott.
Like the Chicken Soup for The Soul series, mine all have the same main title: In His Footsteps, with changing sub-titles. My experience with God managing my overbooked life is titled In His Footsteps: I Gave My To-Do List to God. My experiences serving God full-time as a missionary is called appropriately In His Footsteps: Missions. And my experiences creating a healing marriage doesn’t have its final title yet, but will definitely be called In His Footsteps something.
Q: How long did it take you to write that first book? Did you find any sources or resources that were especially helpful to you, either for the writing part or the publishing part? Did it go faster with the later books?
A: The first one came together really fast using the pieces from Open Diary. The second took a couple of years to edit and shape. I’ve been working on the third one for six years now. Every year I say it’s almost finished; next fall it will be ready. Who knows? Maybe next fall it will be ready. So, no it isn’t going faster. I wish I didn’t have to share that. If you’re a memoirist, don’t let my experience discourage you.
The best resource for me to learn how to write memoir was to read memoirs. I read hundreds of memoirs. I paid attention to what drew me in, how each writer shaped his or her memoir, how they introduced back story and when. I also attended writers’ conferences, read books on writing memoir, figured out the difference between writing memoir and fiction, and joined a good writers’ group.
Q: What was the best part — and the worst part — about writing the books? What were your biggest challenges, and how did you deal with those “rough spots” to keep yourself going?
The worst part was re-living some of the painful or shameful experiences. At times I ended up in a fetal position on my bed. But that also turned out to be a healing part of the process. For most people, writing a memoir can be and is healing.
For me, memoir has four levels. First is what happened and how I felt then. Second is how that affected my future actions. Third is how I felt looking back at that experience from my life now. And the fourth and best was the new insights I received as I wrote.
What keeps me going is the drive to both understand and write the truth of an experience. Writing memoir helps me make sense of my life. When I’m unsure, it’s because there’s something I don’t yet understand. Wanting to understand pushes me through.
Q: What did you discover about yourself in the writing process (if anything)?
Q: What advice would you give to other would-be memoir writers?