I’m reading memoirs this holiday. Starting with one by my father.
I read it years ago, but it means so much more as I age. As I prepare for my “Writing your Story” class in January at Sausalito Books by the Bay, I’m also gobbling up memoirs by famous authors. And, to my surprise, I have several friends who have written compelling memoirs…I’m honored that they let me read them.
When I enthuse about my upcoming class, people ask me to share the top tips I’d give memoir writers. I usually offer some tried and true techniques that I’ve learned from these authors: Natalie Goldberg, Anne LaMott, Mary Karr, and Vivian Gornick. And I share what I’ve learned from writing my own book, “Road to Fulfillment.”
Here are some suggestions:
- Write about what gives you a sense of wonder or about what you dread: it’s more interesting. This could be hiking (e.g., Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild”), spiritual fulfillment (Anne LaMott’s books), making peace with your body (Demi Moore’s “Inside Out”), facing cancer (Natalie Golderg’s “Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home”), overcoming the tyranny of family (Tara Westover’s “Educated”), or the joy of family (Michele Obama’s “Becoming”).
- Revise/Revise/Revise – but do this after you get your first thoughts on paper, not while you’re writing your first draft
- Turn your past into an experience for the reader. Bring it to life with sensual details – smell, taste, touch, vision and sound.
- Don’t label people. Show what happened. What was said? How was it said?
- Start with anecdotes. They lead to the big story.
- You can start at the end, to show what’s at stake.
- Ask: What would I write if I wasn’t afraid. Then write it.
- If possible, show your manuscript to people you’re writing about. Your memory is subjective. Include what others have to say about the past. Tell the reader where your memory is fuzzy or where others see it differently.
- Be brutally honest if you want the reader to resonate with your story. Remember, bad things happen to good people, or there’s no story. Show the good and the difficult stuff.
- Have a movement toward wisdom. This is a key ingredient of all successful memoirs.
I hope you’ll join me January 28 for Writing your Story: A Memoir Class. To enroll, call: 415-887-9967 or stop by 100 Bay Street, Sausalito, CA.
Wishing you and yours a joyful holiday and a happy, healthy New Year.