5-Minute Memoir: Hidden in Plain Sight

5-Minute Memoir is exactly what it sounds like—a personal essay on some facet of the writing life, be it a narrative or a reflection, pensive, touching or hilarious. Enjoy this installment from Kathleen Cleberg.
Author:
Publish date:

My first travel-writing assignment was to cover the grand reopening of an oceanfront golf resort in Naples, Fla., where I spent a long weekend with a group of writers from around the country. We toured the grounds and visited the suites. We went on an excursion to the Everglades. We had happy hour on the beach with huge mounds of shrimp and fruity cocktails.

Throughout the weekend I did exactly what I’d been told to do. I gathered a little historical information and noted the current amenities. I shopped at the boutiques, played golf, walked the beach and ate at local restaurants. I recorded the thread count of the sheets, and the number and types of chocolates on the pillows.

I went home, wrote my article and sent it to my editor. This being my first travel article, I was anxious for a reply. I waited and waited until, months later, I was called by a new editor. Instead of the article I’d submitted, he suggested, what if I wrote about the orchids?

The orchids. The orchids in the lobby. The orchids I’d sidestepped every time I left the hotel. The hundreds of orchids of every variety and color, grouped in sections to reflect the seasons. That weekend, the hotel had also hosted an orchid convention. The massive public display was the keynote speaker.
The orchids had been a fantasy of color and a marvel of blossoms. They had been a sight to behold. Now, if that description smacks of conjecture, it’s because of this: I don’t really remember the orchids. How is that possible? How could I have missed the largest single grouping of orchids in the nation?

I was young, uninterested in plants and gardens. I was hungry, looking for the shrimp. I was tired—the Everglades are huge! I was feverish—too much sun. I was legally blind—I’d lost a contact lens in the swamp. I was drunk—free booze, right?

The truth is, I hadn’t been told to look at the orchids. Consider this: About a decade ago, when a research study told participants to watch a video and count the number of times a basketball was passed back and forth, half of the viewers had no recollection of a person in a gorilla suit strolling out and beating its chest on the court. My situation was the same: I saw what I was told to see, and nothing else. It’s called selective attention, and it kills a writer’s vision. Predetermination can stifle originality, interpretations and surprises. It’s like following the yellow brick road and never looking up to see Oz.

The orchid assignment devolved into embarrassment and anxiety. A Google report was not what the editor wanted. By now, I’ve managed to block out the painful details of what came next, but suffice it to say that in the end we called it a wash. For months I couldn’t even see an orchid without cringing.

But, still, what a lesson for a developing writer. The humbling experience showed me the danger of tunnel vision. Now I try to stay alert to all the odd or interesting details around me. Doing so brings texture to my life and makes me a better writer. At a basketball game I see three little boys in the nosebleed seats having a perfect moment of freedom, friends and slices of greasy pizza. At a holiday dinner I notice an elderly woman across the room delighted by what has to be her first Christmas corsage. I write stories about all of them.

Careful observation can become second nature, as mechanical as it is creative, like that last sweep of a hotel room to make sure you’re not leaving anything behind.

As a writer, leave nothing behind.
Turn your most important personal stories into compelling and meaningful reading experiences for others by considering:
Writing & Selling Your Memoir

Become a WD VIP and Save 10%:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders! Click here to join.

Also check out these items from the Writer’s Digest’s collection:
Writer’s Digest Writing Life Stories
You Don’t Have To Be Famous: How to Write Your Life Story

How To Write A Book Proposal
How To Write & Sell Your First Novel
Writer’s Digest University: Essentials Of Writing Personal Essays
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
Book In A Month
Grammar Sucks: What to Do to Make Your Writing Much More Better
Plot versus Character

new_agent_alert_barb_roose_books_such_literary_services_adult_christian_fiction_and_nonfiction

New Agent Alert: Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

Grinnell_10:28

Evoking Emotion in Fiction: Seven Pragmatic Ways to Make Readers Give a Damn

Evoking emotion on the page begins with the man or woman at the keyboard. Dustin Grinnell serves up seven straightforward tactics for writing tear-jerking stories that make your readers empathize with your characters.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 546

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a spooky poem.

Richard_Shadowlands

Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.

Hall_10:27

Seven Tips for Intuitive Writing: The Heart-Hand Connection

Award-winning author Jill G. Hall shares her top tips for how to dive into your latest project head-first.

bearing_vs_baring_vs_barring_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Bearing vs. Baring vs. Barring (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use bearing vs. baring vs. barring on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

15_things_a_writer_should_never_do_zachary_petit

15 Things a Writer Should Never Do

Former Writer's Digest managing editor Zachary Petit shares his list of 15 things a writer should never do, based on interviews with successful authors as well as his own occasional literary forays and flails.

Green_10:26

Evie Green: Imaginary Friends and Allowing Change

Author Evie Green explains why she was surprised to end writing a horror novel and how she learned to trust the editorial process.