November 18, 2017

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...]

Who’s Driving Your Memoir?

In our long memoir course there’s an image I share around the halfway point to help students recognize tendencies they might have in their writing practice around control. I ask them to consider the idea that either they or their memoir is driving their memoir. In writing, we can want to be in control, which can lead to always needing to be the one to drive; we can also resist being in control, wanting to turn everything over to the creative process, which may work for a while, but eventually … [Read more...]

Mary Karr’s Truth

In September I had the great honor of interviewing Mary Karr, whose claim to fame is this little feat of having penned three best-selling memoirs(!). Karr’s new book is The Art of Memoir, and reading it is like having a front row seat to one of her exclusive graduate seminars, which you’ll never get into in real life because they’re so darn competitive. To start, I highly recommend this book to any student of memoir, anyone who’s trying to write a memoir, and anyone who’s ever written a … [Read more...]

To Revise or to Move On?

Students often ask us in our six-month course about which course of action is better—to revise as they go or to just keep writing and get it all out. As is the case with most things in life, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your disposition, the level of feedback you’re getting from a coach, teacher, or editor, and how much the revisions might impact the bones of your story. The case for revising as you go When you revise as you go, you are engaging in a learning process … [Read more...]

Shades of Truth in Memoir Writing

I have met few memoirists who didn't have to struggle with issues of truth—how much truth to tell and how many details to include. "Do you use real names in a published memoir; how do you write scenes when you don't remember everything. What is truth anyway?" We all wear "the burden of truth" on our shoulders as we write our memoir. The disappointed faces of relatives who disagree or judge us for our writing appear in our imagination, the voices of angry relatives or friends shout at us. Not … [Read more...]

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...]

7 Tips To Keep Writing Through the Muddy Middle of Your Memoir

The idea that you can get stuck in the "Muddy Middle" of writing your memoir came up in teaching Write Your Memoir in Six Months with Brooke Warner. We were talking about the place where suddenly there's a lag in energy, where the forward motion of the writing slows to a stop. As soon as I said it, we both laughed with recognition. All writers experience some kind of breakdown/slowdown as part of the writing process, but it’s a challenge to figure out what is happening and how to move forward … [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...]

Solutions to the 3 Most Common Questions re: Writing a Memoir

The three most common problems in writing a memoir: 1. How do I start? 2. What do I include? 3. Where does it all go? By starting with significant turning points you will soon find yourself thinking about important scenes that address your theme(s). Creating a structure that works helps you to figure out how to weave your scenes and moments together. It becomes easier to write a longer form work when we are focused and know how to plan out the trajectory of our writing. 1.List the … [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...]