I hope you have a wonderful and creative year! I’m looking forward to teaching three sets of memoir workshops this winter quarter, and I’m excited about meeting new students and learning about their work and their lives—there’s nothing like a memoir to get to know someone deeply.
As I read the stories in the memoir workshops to give helpful feedback, I look for what drives the “engine” of the story—and the writer. What motivates the writer, and what are the compelling themes that weave through the story?
- Why are you writing this story? What motivates you, what is the fire in your belly that drives you to get it written?
- Where do you get stuck? Where do you stop writing and start worrying about whether it’s a good enough story, if anyone will care.
- What do you need to keep writing? What will help you to keep that fire alive and work until you have the last page of your memoir done?
Writing from Love
Most people are writing from love—exploring treasured memories, sharing with readers those people who’ve made a difference in their lives. Love may mean a feeling of gratitude, blessings, or appreciation; it might mean some kind of transformation, from holding grudges to finding forgiveness. You might be writing about how find compassion for someone who once was misunderstood or who misunderstood you. A huge part of the satisfaction of writing a memoir can be that it’s a path to finding compassion and forgiveness for ourselves too. This “love” –a healthy kind of love and self-esteem—helps us to develop our strengths, helping us to rise above the moment-by-moment struggles of life to having a bigger overview. Through writing, we discover new perspectives about our lives, our relationships, and our future. In the fifteen years I’ve been teaching memoir writing, I’ve seen transformations again and again, and I love celebrating the power of writing to help create a new view of life, and to heal the past.
Layers of Truth
Writing a memoir means that we need to find a way to present our truths in story form, and this leads us to wrestle with what “truth” means. In “real life,” of course, things—situations, people, events, and memories—aren’t always clear, they’re not etched in black and white. The fact that life holds many shades of grey, and our ambivalent feelings force us to struggle with how to present our story. It’s obvious that people see things differently—in a family and in society. We gaze upon the same scene through different eyes. We need to allow ourselves to have our truth.
Many memoirists struggle to give themselves permission to have their own truths, to hold them not matter what others say. At the same time, it can be helpful to be open to learning new ways of hearing and understanding the family stories. Doing research and interviewing others offer different angles that can enhance our memoir. At the National Association of Memoir writers Teleseummit a couple of years ago, we presented a day-long teleconference about writing the truth, and how to decided whether to write these truths in fiction or in memoir. Truth or Lie: On the Cusp of Memoir and Fiction. This conference is available for purchase at the NAMW store.
The Care and Feeding of You, the Artist
As you begin the new year writing your memoir—adding new chapters, starting a new book, or re-writing chapters you want to revise, keep in mind some suggestions.
- Ask yourself if you are pulling the threads of your themes through all the chapters. If your book is about cooking, you will be telling some stories that aren’t about cooking, but food and cooking should be a theme that enters into, even if briefly, each chapter. That way the reader feels the power of your focus as you establish a foundation for your book.
- Do you feed the writer within enough? Julia Cameron talks about the Artist’s Date in her book The Artist’s Way. She says to take yourself out for a special day just to feed yourself creatively. Writers may refuel by going to a museum to take in the paintings, walks along the seashore, or by watching a favorite movie. When we unplug from an intense focus and open out to other creative paths, we make room for new ideas and energy to come to us.
- Hang out with other writers. Now with the Internet, it’s easy to find other people who have the same questions and struggles as we do—with a click.
- Here are a few locations on Facebook and some websites that offer writers great information and even lively interaction.
www.blockbusterplots.com – Block Buster Plots, an award winning website by Martha Alderson. Read her great posts about learning plot.
www.ninaamir.com — Nina Amir is the author of several books, and specializes in nonfiction writing. She offers many kinds of helpful programs and courses.
www.writeyourmemoirinsixmonths.com — Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner teach a course in memoir writing with the goal to get a first draft completed in six months.
http://www.krpooler.com — Kathy Pooler’s inspiring blog Memoir Writers Journey.
http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog — Memory Writers Network blog by Jerry Waxler—reviews many memoirs on his blog.
http://heartandcraft.blogspot.com — Heart and Craft of Lifewriting is Sharon Lippincott’s blog with many tips for writing, editing, and publishing.
www.namw.org — National Association of Memoir Writers website with resources, programs, newsletters, blog, and audios
https://memoriesandmemoirs.com Linda Joy Myers blog with tips, articles, resources and coaching information.
Facebook pages: Please “like” these pages. It helps the traffic for writers and authors if you “like” them.
https://www.facebook.com/nationalassociationofmemoirwriters — Facebook page for NAMW
https://www.facebook.com/groups/11446501213 — National Association of Memoir Writers non-member FB page
https://www.facebook.com/LindaJoyMyersAuthor — Linda Joy Myers Author Page—please “like!”
https://www.facebook.com/groups/GutsyIndiePublishers — group host Sonia Marsh
Read books about writing, read great memoirs and juicy fiction.
Read best sellers to see why they are best sellers.
Here are 12 books on memoir writing and skills to inspire you and help you to develop your skills. You can find other lists at writers’ websites and in Oprah’s newsletter.
The Liar’s Club—Mary Karr
Angela’s Ashes—Frank McCourt
This Boy’s Life—Tobias Wolff
The Truth Book—Joy Castro
Writing the Truth—Judith Barrington
Make a Scene—Jordan Rosenfeld
If You Want to Write—Brenda Ueland
Scene and Structure—Jack Bickham
The Power of Memoir—Linda Joy Myers
Wired for Story—Lisa Crohn
Thank you so much for providing such helpful, focused ideas and resources. Your generosity to your fellow memoirists is greatly appreciated.