Writing Lessons: How to Cover Time When Writing Memoir

Jessica Hendry Nelson book cover Book coverMUST MEMOIR BE CHRONOLOGICAL? In a word, no. How is your story best told? How can the reader best absorb it? These are the questions to begin to ask yourself as you face the writing dilemma of how to cover time when writing memoir. Let me introduce you to Jessica Hendry Nelson, author of  If Only You People Could Follow Directions (Counterpoint Press), a book that is getting a great deal of much-deserved attention. When we got talking about her topic and she posed the idea of coming out against chronology, I knew she was perfect for a Writing Lessons post. Read on. [Read more...]

Writing Lessons: Finding the Message in Your Memoir Writing

Four_Funerals_cover-1MUCH LIKE FINDING MEANING IN LIFE, finding the message in your memoir writing requires some digging. I would argue that in both life and in writing what you should dig past are the easy questions and their all-too-available answers. Meet Jill Smolowe, author of the marvelous new memoir, Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief (She Writes Press, 2014), and read about the questions she is always asked, as well as those she asks herself, when writing her books. To date, Jill is the author of two fine memoirs. Find out how she brought them to the page. [Read more...]

Writing Lessons: The Steps To Finding Your Writing Voice & Structure

9-1FINDING YOUR WRITING VOICE requires experimenting. It’s as simple – and complicated – as that. And when I say this to my classes, I frequently get back accusatory stares. I think people feel cheated by this suggestion, as though I know how I found my voice and I’m not saying. What am I am saying? Experiment. When you do, you may find that your structure follows. To illustrate how to experiment your way to your own writing voice and subsequent structure, I’ve asked Nancy Sharp, author of just-out memoir, Both Sides Now, to illustrate how she found her way to write a book that Kirkus calls, “eloquent and fiercely hopeful.” That’s a voice to listen to. Read on. [Read more...]

Writing Lessons: How to Write About Yourself When Writing Memoir

1-a34610d685HOW TO WRITE ABOUT YOURSELF is one of the most difficult assignments facing memoirists. Who are you, and what role do you play in a story that is not about you, but about something for which you are the illustration? This question drives my students crazy, particularly those who come to my classes thinking a memoir is about them. To explore this question, I have turned to Jenny Bowen, the author of the just-out Wish You Happy Forever (HarperOne). Full disclosure requires I tell you that Jenny Bowen is one of my personal heroes. Read on to find out why.  [Read more...]

Writing Lessons: Becoming Part of an Anthology

TimesTheyWereChanging_Covr1BECOMING PART OF AN ANTHOLOGY is a great achievement for a writer. Along with the obvious joy of allowing you to keep fine company with the authors in the book, some of the other upsides to being in a fine collection might be less apparent. For instance, anthologies can be a home for a piece that simply does not fit anywhere else. For me, the joy is writing to a specific call for submissions. For these and other reasons, being part of an anthology should become one of your goals. To help you, I asked an editor of one of my new favorite anthologies to tell you how to get your pieces in one. Meet Linda Joy Myers, who helped shape and edit Times They Were A-Changing – Women Remember the ’60s & ’70s. You might know her as the founder and president of the National Association of Memoir Writers. Here she is explaining anthologies to you. Read on. [Read more...]

Writing Lessons: Writing About An Exceptional Experience

EvansSPEAKING WITH A STUDENT recently, I was dismayed when she claimed that hers was not an “exceptional” story. There was no death, no loss, and so she thought her story of little value. I disagreed. In fact hers is a tale of great gain, though of the spiritual type, and it got me thinking about the difference purely in terms of craft and how to record the various forms of memoir I like to read. Writing about an exceptional experience provides lessons for us all, no matter what our tales include, and to tackle this I have turned to an exceptional author, writer and teacher, John W. Evans. His beautiful new book, Young Widower: A Memoir, is splendid with the thoughtful skill of someone who can teach you what you need to know to write about the big stuff – the exceptional experiences—of life, while also upping your game on the small details of how to write good memoir. Read on. [Read more...]