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writing memoir

Writing Memoir Is Not Easy

When you’re writing memoir, the project typically starts with a burst of energy. “This is going to be a good piece of writing! What am I saying, ‘good?’

“It’s going to be great!”

So we write for a month or two or even three and the energy remains strong but…

There comes a day when the demon that plagues all writers raises its ugly head and snaps at you.

“What in the world were you thinking of committing yourself to writing this horribly insignificant piece! And worse yet, what were you thinking of alerting other people that you were writing a memoir? Now, they’re going to expect something and you’re about to make a fool of yourself!”

Or, something equally terrible and intimidating goes through your mind. When that happens, what do you do?

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What motivates me to write

What Motivates Me to Write?

The simplest answer to what motivates me to write is that I’ve always loved to write, and lacking the creativity to write fiction or the tenacity to research subjects for non-fiction, I write about what I know, my life. I love memoir.

If I look beyond my lack of creativity, I see writing memoir feeds a certain voyeurism.  I’ve always been fascinated by letters and the glimpse they provide into other people’s lives. I’ve never been able to resist an epistolary book, fiction or non-, and I’ve come to realize that many of the memoir pieces I’ve written are basically letters to myself, or to the family that comes after me.  I love reading letters, so I write them. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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truth telling

Telling the Hard Truth in Your Memoir–Are You Holding Back?

Are You Holding Back the Hard Truth in Your Memoir?

Your memoir needs the hard truth about life—your life—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”

I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt…. we have to know all we can about each other and we have to be willing to go naked.

—May Sarton

Wow, going around naked! Gulp! (Better hit the gym!)

But, I guess you get the idea—psychologically and emotionally naked. Your memoir needs truth telling about life—yours—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”

I would like to change the metaphor a bit, to use a metaphor that is less startling but very graphic nonetheless. It is the metaphor of the kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bowl.

I love popcorn and enjoy eating it but there always comes a moment when I get to the bottom of the bowl and the plethora of corn kernels that have been popped into delightful puffy bites gives way to the hard half-popped or not-popped-at-all kernels. These are not fun to eat. Disappointed, I walk to the trash and throw the kernels away. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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Get More Info From Your Photos

Get More Info From Your Photos–The small details for your memoir are in your photos

Look with “new eyes” to get more info from your photos.

“Where do I find more details for my memoir?” you ask. “I remember a lot and I’ve done my Memory List, but where is the small stuff I need to ground my memoir—and possibly provide new insights?”

The answer is in your photos. Get more info from your photos by following these steps

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writing prompt

Use this instead of a writing prompt…

Writing prompts lead to nothing

As readers of the blog know, I’m not a great fan of using a writing prompt. Sure, they get you to writing something and many will insist, “Writing something is better than writing nothing…”

Well, I’m not so sure of that. Writing should matter. It’s hard work, and life is short. What’s better than nothing about writing some text on “the most fun things I did this summer?” as we sometimes had to in school. (No wonder we did not learn to write while in that context!)

Writing from insipid prompts is not much better than writing nothing—not if you are someone who is interested in writing “from the inside out” as I hope all readers of this newsletter are. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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jog your memory

(More) Better than Prompts: Five Tips to Help You “Jog Your Memory”

When starting on a memoir, it can be difficult to remember all the stories and memories you would like to include. You naturally want to jog your memory.

When you are intent on writing “from the inside out” as we at The Memoir Network hope you will, there are some useful techniques you can use—to add to compiling your Memory List and perhaps even to stimulate it.
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Writers Learning About the Memory List at a "Turning Memories Into Memoirs" Workshop

The Problem With Writing Prompts

Is there a problem with writing prompts? This is my issue with writing prompts: they tend to lead to isolated stories, stories that are searching for humor, searching to be shared with a group that is perhaps looking for entertainment. They are not, by and large, searching for meaning lost in the morass of your […]

WritingGreatMemoryListsCOVERsm

Don’t Use A Writing Prompt Unless…

A writing prompt seems like a good idea—but is it really?

You are given a writing based on a writing prompt—let’s say, “Write about something physical you were afraid of as a child?”—and you instantly start to write about the water slide at Camp Algonquin you were sent to as an eight-year old. You are not sure why you are so moved to write this story but you do not hesitate. You write about standing at the top of the slide and about Martha Cocciardi in back of you on the ladder, shouting “Get going, Patty. I want to slide, too” and, at that moment,  you realized there was nothing to be done but to throw yourself at the mercy of fate and hope you survive to enter the fourth grade. You write with some humor and emotional distance suggesting “Oh, silly me! Oh, what little problems we have as children!” [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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writing a better memoir

Four Tips for Writing a Better Memoir

To write a better memoir, make use of the core memory list. The extended memory list does not make value judgments about the quality of your memories. The core memory list, however, distinguishes between two sorts of memories— the important from the unimportant.