October 16, 2018

Why and How to Do More “Takeaway” in Memoir

Takeaway is the most important part of memoir writing that most memoirists don’t know how to do, or don’t do well or often enough. In my memoir classes, I share with students that I came to be so obsessed with takeaway first as an acquiring editor for Seal Press, because I knew as soon as I got to an editorial meeting, the marketing team would ask, “What’s the takeaway?” If it wasn’t apparent, the book wasn’t acquirable. Later, as I began to teach this genre and shepherd more authors through the … [Read more...]

Where Are You NOW? Tracking “Now” in Memoir

Because I have the great honor of reading about 70,000 words (an entire book-length manuscript) every single month for student homework alone, I come across this problem of when “now” is in memoir on a weekly basis. “Now” cannot occupy two separate spaces, times, or eras. For your readers, there can only be one now. One of the most jarring things beginning memoirists do is to pull the reader out of a given scene by referring to the “now” of today, when they’re writing the book, in 2018 or … [Read more...]

Why to Ditch “I Remember” in Your Memoir

A memoir, by its very definition, is an account of your personal experience, which means it’s a compilation of what you remember. Because a memoirist’s entire book is a series of remembrances, the words “I remember,” especially when remembering from the vantage point of “now,” by which I mean the now of when you’re sitting down to write your story, are almost always redundant. Most of the time I find that “I remember” is easily deleted, as in: I remember when she came home that … [Read more...]

What to Share When Writing a Memoir

Who cares? is one of the most common assaults memoir writers are subjected to, and it’s usually lobbed at them by their own inner critic. Memoir writers face critical voices—their own and others’—who state that the story/message/idea is trivial, boring, not worth sharing. It’s so important for memoirists to get past these messages in order to set free the story that wants to be told. Here are some tips for memoir writers, especially those struggling with their inner critics, whose primary goal … [Read more...]

Practice Makes Perfect: Why Practicing the Art of Scene Writing Is the Path to Memoir Excellence

Scenes are the building blocks of memoir. Given this is so, you can’t really begin to write a great memoir—heck, even a good memoir—until you master scene. Linda Joy and I teach scene in nearly all the classes we teach. (In fact, we did a recent hour-long intensive on scene that’s available to view here.) And as much as we know how important it is for memoirists to wrap their minds around the mechanics of what’s involved, there’s no substitute for practice. In my opinion, practice comes in … [Read more...]

What To Say When Someone Suggests You Turn Your Memoir into a Novel

Of course you say, “Thank you very much for that insight,” because you’re polite and the person who’s suggesting this is undoubtedly an agent or an editor who doesn’t really understand the soul-power of memoir or what draws writers to it. Inside you may be thinking, Hell, no! Or worse, Maybe she’s right. That would be easier, after all. Whether you’re an aspiring memoirist, have a memoir-in-progress, or have one or a few published memoirs to your credit, you are in serious danger of being … [Read more...]

My Top 10 Fall Memoir Tips

Fall is right around the corner, and I'm sharing my top 10 memoir tips as inspiration for this season I love, which can be a prolific time for writers, but also sometimes difficult. We've got the fresh start of back-to-school alongside holiday overwhelm, presenting conflicting energies for some. So dive in, and share anything that keeps you moving from month-to-month too. 1. Choose a structure Memoirists can benefit from having a structure in place before they start writing. You can and … [Read more...]

The Real Magic of Memoir: Thoughts on Reading and Judging Submissions for The Magic of Memoir

This month we had the privilege of reviewing 185 submissions from memoirists or memorists-in-the-making for our anthology, The Magic of Memoir, coming out this November on She Writes Press. The experience of reading so many inspiring and heartfelt works from writers from all paths, and various levels of writing and publishing experience, confirmed for us what we already knew to be true: memoir holds magic. What is this magic? All the writers who submitted to the anthology explored the … [Read more...]

Where Are We in Relation to the Last Scene? Tracking Time in Memoir

Lately, with my memoir students and clients, I find myself writing the following query into nearly every submission: Where are we in relation to where we just were? As the writer of your memoir, it’s critical to remember that you lived the experiences you’re writing about, and that you must slow down and anchor the reader again and again and again as to where they are in your timeline—multiple times in a single chapter. I encourage my students to read best-selling memoirs to see how other … [Read more...]

Why the Literary Elite Love to Hate Memoir

I teach memoir, read memoir, and publish memoir. I love memoir, and I'm not alone. It's a popular genre, the genre of the people. It's also the most reviled genre--perhaps exactly for this reason. Every few months some literary elitist comes out with a memoir-bashing article, so replete in its criticism and condemnation that it reminds us just how hated memoir is by some. This month's reminder came from William Giraldi, a contributing editor to The New Republic. His article, "The Unforgivable … [Read more...]