Thrilled that we have a special guest for today’s MFA Monday! Which could be subtitled: Shaping the Non-Fiction Book.
Kim Brittingham is the author of the new memoir: Read My Hips!
Kim took the time to ask a few questions for you guys:
Q: First off, Kim, can you tell us a little bit about your book?
A: My book is a memoir, and it’s called “Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large”. It’s a peek into my experience as a girl growing up in the United States, and how our cultural obsession with thinness affected the kind of woman I became.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to write a memoir?
A: I always thought I’d be a novelist, and that may still happen. But a few years ago I entered a memoir-writing contest with The Memoirists Collective on MySpace, and it made me realize how much I really enjoyed writing from life.
Q: How did you go about writing it, especially given that the book isn’t shaped into a chronological order?
A: I originally started writing a different memoir, one that was much more broad in scope. But when I met my agent she pointed out that every time I’d published an essay related to body image, it got a huge reader response. So she suggested that I take the parts of my manuscript that pertained to body image and dieting, and build on them to narrow the topic of my book. So I started with some pre-existing chapters from my earlier manuscript and continued expanding on them. Eventually, my editor felt I had not just enough material for a book, but the right mix of material.
Q: Did you have to do any research? If so, how did you go about it and when did you realize you needed to do it?
A: No, I didn’t do any research. These were all my own life experiences, so no research was necessary. In fact, I’ve always been intimidated by research, but just this spring I took a class at my local community college that introduced me to a whole new world of databases and scholarly articles and MLA documentation. I read somewhere that most authors tend to write the kinds of books they read for pleasure, but that wasn’t the case with me. I tend to gravitate towards juicy historical books like “The Devil in the White City” or “American Eve”. I could never imagine writing something that required so much research, but my confidence there may be changing. Slowly.
Q: What did you learn most from the experience of writing a non-fiction book?
A: The same things I suppose I would’ve learned from writing in another genre. I learned to discipline myself and persevere. I learned the importance of showing up at the page on a routine basis, of plowing ahead and allowing those early drafts to be dreadful. I knew my entire life that I wanted to be an author, but I remember being in my early twenties and never being able to get past three or four pages of any one piece or writing. I was too caught up in trying to make a single page as “perfect” as possible, which of course can’t be done – at some point you just have to decide to let it be finished and flawed. But most importantly, I didn’t know how to develop and sustain a forward-moving momentum in my writing, to just throw the words up on the page and come back later to edit. No one had ever taught me that before. What really changed everything for me, writing-wise, was participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) three times. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to complete a 50,000-word draft of a novel within one month – the month of November. That takes pure plowing. It really broke my self-indulgent habits and made writing a bigger joy for me.
Kim Brittingham is a writer and blogger whose personal essays have been published on iVillage, Salon and Fresh Yarn. She received widespread national attention, including appearances on the Today Show and NPR, when she created a mock self-help book jacket with the title, Fat is Contagious: How Sitting Next to a Fat Person Can Make YOU Fat, wrapped it around a real book, and pretended to read it while riding the buses of New York City as an informal social experiment. Brittingham is the star of a video series pilot for NBC Universal called “Big Life” and her own video series called “Kim Weighs In” (www.kimweighsin.com).
Brittingham founded and operated Philadelphia Dial-a-Poet, a free service providing recordings of poetry by telephone, and grew Café Eighties magazine from a small zine to a nationally-distributed glossy. She has also designed plus size clothing under her own label.
Brittingham is an Anglophile; dreams of finding an affordable fencing school; lustily watches the History Channel and can’t stop having good ideas. She divides her time between New York and the Jersey Shore.
Kim will be responding to your additional questions so post away in comments!