December 13, 2018

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...]

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...]