Due to the nature of my work, many people have asked me what makes a truly powerful memoir and how to write a powerful memoir.
When we begin writing a memoir, we find ourselves travelling down bumpy roads and misty memory paths as we search for our story. We feel the urgency to capture a place, a time, people, and special moments, somehow gathering a time that is forever gone and creating it again on the page. Every memoir writer is writing for a reason, and often a passionate one. It might be to bring someone they loved to life again, as I did with my great-grandmother Blanche when I put her back in the garden to swear at the weeds, or feed me a ripe strawberry right off the vine. Or the memoirist is writing a memoir try to find words to explore shock and grief, as Joan Didion does in her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, or as Isabel Allende does in a different way in Paula, the book she wrote as she tended her dying daughter. Michael Chabon explores fatherhood in his memoir, and Ruth Reichel entertains us about her family and food in a series of memoirs.
A memoir might be a gift to a child or grandchild, a legacy that is supposed to tell some of the tales of the past, as Dorothy Allison does in Two or Three Things I Know For Sure and many war memoirs do. Vera Brittain in Testament of Youth chronicles the sleepy villages in England before all the young men eagerly enlisted in WWI, young men like her brother, her fiancé, and many of her friends. Her memoir shows as nothing else could the intimate experience of growing up with boys who turn into men, all of whom are killed before their 20th birthday.
Most memoirists that I meet have stories roiling around in their heads, but they find it difficult to set them, to locate the story in the world of black ink on a white page. Over the last few years of memoir writing and teaching, I have found that certain techniques are helpful in grounding the story enough to get hold of it. The stories that roam about in our minds are fluid and tricky things, very hard to pin down, and they keep changing like images in a kaleidoscope.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll begin a series in 3 additional posts about some of the key elements, skills and techniques that will help you write a powerful memoir. In the meantime, I welcome you to join me tomorrow as I speak on the subject of How to Write a Powerful Memoir at the International Association of Conscious and Creative Writers. I hope you can make it to the event and will follow my posts on this subject of how to write a powerful memoir in the coming days!