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:

  1. 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”).
  2. Revise/Revise/Revise – but do this after you get your first thoughts on paper, not while you’re writing your first draft
  3. Turn your past into an experience for the reader.  Bring it to life with sensual details – smell, taste, touch, vision and sound.
  4. Don’t label people.  Show what happened.  What was said?  How was it said?
  5. Start with anecdotes.  They lead to the big story.
  6. You can start at the end, to show what’s at stake.
  7. Ask: What would I write if I wasn’t afraid.  Then write it.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Here in Marin County I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of the changing foliage and waterways.  But, it’s also a confusing time.  Suddenly there’s so much to do – Fleet Week, the Symphony, bonfires at the beach, classes to teach – and, yet, as the days grow colder and shorter, I want to quietly hibernate and create something new.

Time to Reflect and Read

This feels like a perfect season to reflect on the past months and the past years.  I’ve been inspired by some of the fabulous memoirs of recent months.  “Educated” by Tara Westover is a must read, even if you feel she’s exaggerated aspects of her life.  Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” is also uplifting and insightful.  If you like audio books, I recommend Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime: Stories form a South African.”  You’ll love hearing him speak African languages and dialects.  This is the story of his journey from apartheid South Africa to hosting “The Daily Show.”   For a fun read, don’t miss  “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” by Balli Kaur Jaswal.

Now What?

So, what’s next?  I plan to teach a memoir class at a local bookstore.  It’s called, “Writing your Story.”  I know everyone has a story to tell, and I can’t wait to hear the stories.  In the class, we’ll discuss our favorite memoirs and apply the authors’ best practices to our own writing.  Writing our stories will help us understand ourselves better and, hopefully, enlighten others.