May 30, 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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

Your Memoir as a Movie

Do you love movies? To me, there’s nothing so satisfying as sitting down to immerse myself in a new story. The first few moments need to capture my attention so I can’t look away. I make sure my tea is nearby, and that my kitties are ready to settle down on my lap. Once the kitties are there, I won’t be getting up for at least an hour or more as the story weaves its magic around me. It grabs me with a scene, in a moment where I’m drawn into a world not my own. I’m inside the scene, inside the … [Read more...]

Get Wild with Flashback and Memory

Because Linda Joy and I taught Cheryl Strayed’s Wild as our first best-selling memoir course in our best-seller series, I’ve been eager to see the movie from the moment I heard about it. In our six-month course, Linda Joy and I talk a lot about writers’ strengths. There are always certain elements of craft that writers will nail. You might feel comfortable with scene-writing, or narrative voice, or takeaways without even realizing it. These are areas in your writing that might come naturally … [Read more...]

Your Scene-writing Toolkit

It happens in each of our long courses that I hit a point where I realize how much writers really shoulder when it comes to writing a memoir. There are so many things to hold in addition to the memories, messages from our saboteurs, and bouts of self-doubt. Most writers who are working on a memoir are learning a new craft while also dealing with the wellspring of emotion that comes from tapping into experiences that can oftentimes feel like stirring a hornet’s nest. Sometimes it’s hard to keep … [Read more...]

How to Craft the Beginning of Your Story

    As readers, we all have the experience of trying to find our bearings as we begin a story. To get “inside” the story that’s beginning, we readers are curious about who the main characters are, and we’re eager to learn about them—to learn why we are being told this story about these people. Early in a story, we’re getting grounded in where we are—literally—on the planet, in the world, and in the geography of place.  We need to know the time frame for the story, too. That’s the who, … [Read more...]