writing your memoirs

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Everyone has a story to tell. I keep plugging away at mine.

Guide books are helpful:


The most inspirational book I got was Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser. It's a collection of essays by famous memoirists about how and why they write. Delicious reading for someone who loves discussions of craft. Also helpful was his distinction between autobiography and memoir: "Unlike autobiography, which moves in a dutiful line from birth to fame, memoir narrows the lens, focusing on a time in the writer’s life that was unusually vivid, such as childhood or adolescence, or that was framed by war or travel or public service or some other special circumstance."

Writing the Memoir: from Truth to Art by Judith Barrington is very practical, with special assistance about stuff like tenses and voice for folks not very practiced in writing. Interesting exercises: Write a portrait of someone you hate, knowing that person will never see it. Write about how you’d feel if that person did see your portrait.

Tristine Rainer wrote Your Life as Story: Discovering the “New Autobiography" and Writing Memoir as Literature. Great advice about structuring your life as story and about how to think of yourself as the protagonist. I used the guidance from this book to structure some journal entries, particularly about the “characters” of my life. I have a lot to learn. I tend to create sweeping summary instead of picking out the juicy tidbits. I get too breezy and start spouting clichés. I grow impatient about wanting to get the entry done and remain superficial.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg is a small book with short chapters that instruct us to JUST WRITE! Let go of the rules that get you all clenched up. Play. Keep cheap notebooks in which you spew out the worst possible writing. Shaping and polishing can come later — after your inspiration is on paper. Goldberg guidance is inspired by the practice of Zen Buddhism.


The Writing Life by Annie Dillard reveals the delicious torture that is writing. How is her day shaped? What is her writing space? How do the words come? Why is it so hard? So slow? These are preoccupations of all writers. She's a one-woman support group.


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