Are you Writing a Memoir—or True Life Fiction?

Truth or Fiction—how do you want to write your life story?

This is a pithy and often difficult question that many memoir writers ponder—and it keeps them from writing. Are you writing—or are you worrying about how to write your story? It’s time to think hard about your choices and get back to your book. You can write—and finish—your book in 2012!


Reasons why you might choose fiction:

  • You want the protection of “the fictional wall.”
  • When your family and friends ask: did that REALLY happen—you can say “This is a novel. Any similarities between persons living and dead are coincidental.” Or whatever disclaimer you decide you use.
  • Your memory isn’t good—and you need to fill in details to make a good story.
  • Your memory isn’t good—and you don’t have enough “truths” to create a memoir, but you have some ideas and experiences that will make a good book.
  • If your story has traumatic truths that “out” someone, you want to be able to create fictional characters to carry the story.

A great book to help you sort out these questions is Robin Hemley’s Turning Life into Fiction.

Reasons to write a memoir:

  • The power of your story comes from the fact that it is true—it really happened.
  • You want to draw upon your real experiences to help others—by claiming your story as true, you will be a better storyteller and deliver a more powerful message.
  • Writing a memoir means exploring memory, meaning, and lived experience, and you enjoy that kind of writing.
  • You believe that writing and publishing a memoir offers a significant legacy or lesson—a takeaway that will change the lives of others.
  • A memoir can be a legacy, testimony, a witnessing of aspects of life that are real and true—and you want to deliver that kind of work to inform and inspire others.

The History of Sex in the Twentieth Century—what a title! It’s one of the memoirs written by Jane Vandenburgh, our guest for our NAMW member teleseminar. I’m so excited to talk with Jane—as she’s an example of someone who has as she puts it, “Put memoir in my fiction and fiction in my memoir.”

Find out more about how she chose the genres for her books. Click here to read more about the upcoming teleseminar.

More of Jane’s books:

The Physics of Sunset—fiction

Failure to Zigzag-fiction

The Architecture of the Novel—a terrific how-to book

Talking about Truth

with Robin Hemley at the National Association of Memoir Writers Teleconference Oct. 21

As most of you know, one of the events I most enjoy putting together as president                 
of the National Association of Memoir Writers is our bi-annual Telesummit. This
Friday I’m spending 5 hours with authors I admire, whose works have changed me,
shaped my thinking toward more creative choices, pushing me toward using
language to carve out even deeper truths. Robin’s memoir Nola makes me ask the questions that he asks: whose version of “truth”
is “real.” Can we trust memory, or do we create our story based on emotional need or unconscious beliefs. His book Turning Your Life into Fiction is one of the best books I’ve read about story writing, all the angles to look at when drawing
from our lives to create a story.

Robin Hemley is going to talk with us about one of the most important issues in memoir writing Truth—how
to find it within us, and how reflect upon our personal truths and agendas as we write.

To read more about the Telesummit, go to the National Association of Memoir
Writers to sign up.
You will receive a link to the 5 hour downloadable audio after the conference is over.

Robin has shared with us his outline for our discussion at the teleconference.

The Trouble with the Truth

Any time we set down to write the truth of our lives we have to face the fact that there is no
single truth to our lives. To make matters more complex we’re different people at different times in our lives and
we show different faces to different people.  The portrayal of an “authentic” self is something most memoir writers
strive for, but there are always details we omit or exaggerate or forget, or hidden agendas even we aren’t aware of as we’re writing. While we don’t want to lie, we also have to understand that what we aspire to write is closer to art than a court room
transcript. It’s not all about content. There are aesthetic concerns as well. Above all, you have to remember
that once an event has passed, it’s gone forever and words can’t recreate the event. They can only create a semblance
of the event.

We will discuss

  • Distance and the imagination
  • Precision of language versus precision of memory
  • Writing associatively rather than chronologically
  • Including primary texts in your memoir
  • Legal and ethical issues that arise whether you write
    fiction or nonfiction

 I’m eager to talk with Robin, and I hope you all will join us for this fabulous free conference!

–Linda joy

Truth or Lie–National Association of Memoir Writers Free Teleconference October 21


I’m so excited today! On October 21, I’m going to be hosting the Free Memoir Writing Telesummit over at The National Association of Memoir Writers. What an opportunity—to talk with these writers, teachers, authors, and bloggers who make such a difference in the creative nonfiction and literary world.

You need to be there! Go right over the National Association of Memoir Writers right now and SIGN UP. You will really enjoy being on the call live, but if you sign up, you also receive the downloadable audio as a resource to keep for yourself.

Take a look at this list: Dinty Moore, Robin Hemley, Jennifer Lauck, and a panel of young memoirists Elisabeth Eaves, Nicole Johns, Anna Mitchael, and our marketing expert Penny Sansevieri.

Think about it—how many times do you wonder if you have the “right” to put some of your personal stories in a book for others to read? How often do you put away your writing and just walk away—thinking it’s time to quit writing, time for a glass of wine and a movie instead.

I’m all for movies and a glass of wine, but memoir writers really do have a challenge—when we write and share our work, we effectively unzip ourselves and run around sort of naked!

What do other memoirists do to solve this? What are the rules of memoir writing—or is it called Creative Nonfiction. Stay tuned for some answers to your problems.

Why is this conference free?

Because I enjoy helping writers find their voice. I want to support memoirists and creative writers—you—on your  journey toward a book, essays, a blog—whatever kind of writing invites us to learn about who you are, how you solved life’s problems. How you loved, faced death, healed trauma, and learned about forgiveness. That’s why I started the National Association of Memoir Writers.

Be sure to put October 21st on your calendar. I hope to see you then.

–Linda Joy