December 18, 2017

Top 10 Things All Memoir Writers Need To Pay Attention To

As Linda Joy Myers and I gear up to host some new fall classes and prepare for our next six-month course, I've been fully immersed in memoir land---one of my favorite places to be. If you can hold this list in your mind as you write your memoir, you'll have a leg up at least, and maybe even experience what we call "memoir magic." 1. Scope Knowing the scope of your story means knowing where it starts and where it ends. You don’t have to have a perfect sense of what comes in between, as long as … [Read more...]

What You’re Writing—Memoir vs. Autobiography

Three months after I published by book, What’s Your Book?, I went to lunch with an old friend who’s been in the publishing industry forever. When I asked him what he thought of my book, he responded that he liked it, it was good, but that he was puzzled about why I hadn’t included a definition of memoir. Good point. The truth was that I hadn’t considered it, in part because I never ask my clients to consider whether they’re writing memoir. If someone comes to me saying they’re writing a memoir, … [Read more...]

Dumping

A couple weeks ago I had an experience that prompted raw personal writing. It came out strong and visceral and angry and true. It scared me a little in its potency. It stared me in the face with its hard truths. It was 2500 words of intense, gritty, substantive stuff that poured out of me like molten lava. As a writer, this felt powerful and fierce and really good. I wanted to pat myself on the back. It was one of the best “pieces” I’d ever written. And I wrote it in a single session with … [Read more...]

Who Are You Writing For?

I recently interviewed Julia Scheeres, author of the fantastic and must-read memoir, Jesus Land, and A Thousand Lives. During the interview, which you can access below, I asked her the following question: “Do you imagine or envision a reader, or have a reader in mind while you write?” Her answer: “Never.” To say this totally caught me off-guard is an understatement. I just assumed that writers like Julia Scheeres, who’ve had major commercial success (her book was a New York Times bestseller) … [Read more...]

What Makes Wild Special

Wild is everywhere these days, and so it’s no surprise that Cheryl Strayed keynoted at the San Miguel de Allende Writers’ Conference, which kicked off last night. And she was great. What strikes me most about Cheryl is her presence. She’s authentic and real. She is the character you meet and grow to care about in Wild. But Wild has become much bigger than Cheryl Strayed at this point. It’s one of those rare memoirs that has launched into the stratosphere and become the next big memoir that … [Read more...]

How to Find Your Happy Middle Ground

Balance is almost impossible to achieve in our culture. In my work with writers, it’s the struggle to find balance that seems to throw the biggest curve ball. Most writers have a goal to complete a book, and then to someday publish. And yet that process can sometimes take years, and even the best of us can start to lose steam, to lose hope. I work with writers who write prolifically and every day, and yet they don’t have any truly finished pieces to show for it. I work with others who can … [Read more...]

The Narrative Voice

What’s wonderful about the decision to write memoir is the clear choice you face when deciding who’s going to narrate your book. It’s you! No need to weigh between first person and third person. You lived it and it’s your story. There is a decision to make, however, between the two narrative voices you have at your disposal when you dive in and start to write your scenes. These are what Sue William Silverman aptly calls the “Voice of Innocence” and the “Voice of Experience.” You make use of the … [Read more...]

Research and Memoir

Research is directly linked to truth in memoir. Many memoirists feel they need more facts in order to start; in order to keep going; in order to finish. I have worked with writers who are convinced they need to interview family members to get their take on what really happened. I have worked with writers who have decided they can’t or won’t write until they find that one particular journal (which they can’t find, of course) that captures the essence of 1973 in all its intensity. I have worked … [Read more...]

Strategies for Handling Scope in Memoir

Many writers come to their memoirs with so much information, back story, and details about their lives that the prospect of narrowing down their scope or even knowing where to begin can feel daunting and elusive. When it’s your own story, it’s tough to be objective, so it’s important to determine as early as possible whether you have a chronologically-driven or thematically-driven narrative. The first is simpler to execute. Your story unfolds on a timeline, and you need to be careful not to … [Read more...]

Give Yourself Permission

Linda Joy and I talk incessantly about permission-giving when it comes to writing memoir. It’s one of the most important things writers of memoir need to allow themselves in order to write. Many writers who want to write memoir find themselves stuck right out the gate, grappling with voices both internal and external: Who gives you the right to write that? What if that’s not how it really happened? You’re not supposed to talk about your family that way. We’ve both heard these messages and … [Read more...]