Memoir Writing: Skills and Tools for your Craft


I was thinking about the word “craft.” A craft is a boat, a craft sails down roiling waters, a craft keeps us dry and safe–we hope! How is a memoir like a boat–does our craft keep us dry and safe? Does it protect us in any way? As I prepare to give my webinar for Writer’s Digest March 8–on International Women’s Day, I began to muse on these questions.

Craft is also a verb–to craft something is to create it. We craft our memoir, and we draw upon skills for the craft of memoir writing. It all comes full circle, and such is the magic of words.

Here is a list of some of the skills you need when you write-craft- your memoir–I’m going to talk about all of them during the 90 minute webinar:

  • How to create a hook and theme—in other words: how to make your story stand out from other memoirs that editors and agents review.
  • Ways to think about truth and memory, family, and legal issues that block your writing; how to find your theme and focus your story for your audience.
  • Create a timeline, write vignettes, and choose the most important part of your story—the turning points.
  • The reasons why you need scenes and a narrative arc.
  • Why you need to draw upon fictional techniques, such as sensual details, point of view, scenic structure, and vivid descriptions to craft a great story.
  • How to research the parts of your story that you’re not sure about.

I like talking about craft, and I urge my students not to feel overwhelmed by what they need to learn, to put their memoir boat out in the waters and build it strong so it can carry the story they are telling through the rapids and the dark places, and be able to bring in the light and the insight to their story. Most memoir writers are sorting something out as they write, they’re knitting together threads of the past, they’re looking in closets for skeletons, they’re confronting family myths. It’s a lot to juggle, and so worthwhile.

Most memoirists get stuck on some aspect of the memoir—like truth—is my truth right? Will the family get angry at me? Will my words cause a rift in the family?

Or plot—how can I organize so many memories, what should I write about first? How do I make transitions between time frames?

Some memoirists think they can copy their journal and have a memoir. A memoir is a crafted story made up like a quilt from many areas of your life, with a guiding narrator to help the reader make sense of it. Some post-modernists don’t care about making sense, but most readers want to understand what your story is about, they want to apply it to their own lives.

To find out more about the webinar, go to Writers Digest.

I’m also doing the Roundtable Discussion at National Association of Memoir Writers with Brooke Warner on March 8–4 PM PST. We’re going to talk about techniques to help you commit to writing your memoir, focus on your story, and get your memoir done!