August 20, 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...]

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...]