July 21, 2017

Takeaway: The Heart of Memoir Writing

When writers hear the word “takeaway” it evokes something specific. It speaks to what your reader gets from reading your work. What they walk away with. We originally started using the term "takeaway" in our memoir classes because of Brooke’s background as an acquiring editor, where every single manuscript evaluated for acquisition had to pass a single litmus test: Did the story have a takeaway? As we developed curriculum for the various memoir classes we teach together at … [Read more...]

Your Memoir Needs Good Boundaries

Just like a child, your memoir needs you to set boundaries. We’ve worked with countless memoirists over the years who are struggling either toward the beginning of their memoir because they’ve reached a certain place and they’re not sure where to go next, or because they’ve written so much content that seems disconnected and they can’t figure out how to turn it into something cohesive (the classic not being able to see the forest through the trees kind of experience). In our courses, we often … [Read more...]

Are Time Bandits Keeping You from Writing Your Memoir?

Time bandits come in all forms. They’re anything that keeps us from doing what we commit to doing where our writing is concerned. They might be social commitments. They’re most certainly work commitments. They can show up as the guilt we feel for not spending time with our family. They can also be the many other personal commitments we have: exercising; mowing the lawn; doing the dishes. There are a few lucky individuals who have figured out lifestyles that foster having a creative life, but … [Read more...]

Libel and Invasion of Privacy in Memoir

So many memoirists Linda Joy and I work with are concerned about legal issues surrounding libel and invasion of privacy that it's high time we get clear about what you can and cannot do in memoir here on our blog. I obtained the information below about libel and invasion of privacy at a session I attended at Pub U  in April (notice—next year Pub U is happening in Salt Lake City, April 8-9), where attorney Jonathan Kirsch was helping a bunch of publishers and authors wrap their mind around the … [Read more...]

Get Wild with Flashback and Memory

Because Linda Joy and I taught Cheryl Strayed’s Wild as our first best-selling memoir course in our best-seller series, I’ve been eager to see the movie from the moment I heard about it. In our six-month course, Linda Joy and I talk a lot about writers’ strengths. There are always certain elements of craft that writers will nail. You might feel comfortable with scene-writing, or narrative voice, or takeaways without even realizing it. These are areas in your writing that might come naturally … [Read more...]

Why to Write Through the Holidays

There’s an exercise I do with clients that I got from Tsultrim Allione, author of Feeding Your Demons. The exercise is more or less a guided meditation that encourages people to give characteristics to their saboteur (demon). The point is to give form to your saboteur—to determine its shape, smell, size, color, and even to name it. Over years of doing this with writers, there’s been an interesting commonality: Oftentimes the saboteur haunting writers is sticky. I’ve seen saboteurs manifest in … [Read more...]

Manifesting Your Idea into a Memoir

I had the privilege of seeing Elizabeth Gilbert’s keynote address at the Wake-Up Festival this August 2014. Although Liz is most famous for her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, she told the audience that her true and original love was fiction. Dani Shapiro wrote this month in the New Yorker that she is an accidental memoirist, and although Liz didn’t frame it exactly this way, it’s clear that she is too. It’s not uncommon for writers to be visited, or haunted, by a story that will not let them go. … [Read more...]

Your Scene-writing Toolkit

It happens in each of our long courses that I hit a point where I realize how much writers really shoulder when it comes to writing a memoir. There are so many things to hold in addition to the memories, messages from our saboteurs, and bouts of self-doubt. Most writers who are working on a memoir are learning a new craft while also dealing with the wellspring of emotion that comes from tapping into experiences that can oftentimes feel like stirring a hornet’s nest. Sometimes it’s hard to keep … [Read more...]

Memoir Categories

This is a list that Linda Joy and I put together for our class. Please feel free to add categories and ideas we might have missed. We mostly want to have a record of this on our site! Childhood, Adolescent, and Coming of Age Memoirs • Family dynamics, dysfunction, drama • Unique childhood experiences/growing up stories • School days Examples of this type of memoir include: Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs; Jesus Land, by Julia Scheeres; I’m Down, by Mishna Wolff; Funny in Farsi, … [Read more...]