June 28, 2017

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...]

The Secret of Scenes that Keep your Readers Reading

As readers, we tend to take for granted the writer’s skill, but when your heart starts pounding, and in your mind’s eye you see vivid colors and feel the wind, you are experiencing the writer’s skill in creating a world. You’re lost in a story and stop noticing the passage of time, a car honking outside, or a barking dog.  The author succeeded in connecting her imagery and language and feelings with your emotions, bringing you into what John Gardner, author of The Art of Fiction calls “The … [Read more...]

Truth, Exposure, and the Reason We Write Memoir

Recently I had the privilege of moderating a panel at the Bay Area Book Festival. The panel was titled “Why Write Memoir: A Conversation about Truth, Exposure, and the Genre People Love to Hate.” The title shows a perfect combination of the issues that memoir writers struggle with. In every workshop and class I teach, the conversation that brings the most questions and angst has to do with writing the truth, feeling "too exposed," and writing material that seems to attract pointed criticisms: … [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...]

Zooming Out and In: How to Harness the Power of Your Memoir Camera Lens

In our six-month course, Linda Joy and I teach a class called “Write Your Memoir Like a Movie.” The point of this metaphor---memoir as movie**---is to teach students how to get behind the lens of their own memoir camera and to think like the director of their own story. Too often we see aspiring memoirists not using the full range of their camera lens, instead staying completely zoomed out in the Big Picture, reluctant to zoom in and create the details of the scene they’re asking their reader to … [Read more...]

The Narrator of your Memoir

When you read a book, a nearly invisible narrator is guiding you through the text—helping you to focus on the important things in your story. The narrator guides you through the action and setting, and guides you to understand the psychology of the characters, goals, conflicts, and themes being explored. Through the narrator, you learn what’s at stake—what the tensions and conflicts in the story are, even if they’re internal. The narrator translates and interprets an action by offering a … [Read more...]