October 1, 2022

Why to Write Like There’s No Tomorrow

Write Like There's No Tomorrow Recently, Mychal Denzel Smith was a guest on my podcast, Write-minded. I asked him, “How do you think about consequence when you set out to write your thoughts and opinions about what you see out there in the world?” I loved his answer, which was to turn the question back on me: Consequence in what direction and for whom? He went on to ponder the question of consequence. If my question was about him, the writer, then what are the personal consequences … [Read more...]

How to Work Through Overwhelm While Writing Your Memoir

The challenge with overwhelm is the way that it hits us from so many sides. As a writer, you’re not just going to be overwhelmed by the project you’re working on, but also with your responsibilities, your life, the wider world. Overwhelm is a lot like seasonal allergies, in that you’re impacted or at its mercy, and it can come and go in waves. As a writer, you don’t have the luxury of compartmentalizing overwhelm, though it might be helpful to think of overwhelm as something to categorize and … [Read more...]

Overcoming the Fear of Getting It Right

On September 20, Stephanie Foo, author of What My Bones Know, will be joining us to teach for our newest series, THE COURAGE TO WRITE FEARLESSLY, on the topic of “getting it right,” and how to overcome the intellectual and emotional obstacles to that particular expectation when you’re writing your memoir.I adored this book, which was what prompted us to invite Stephanie to teach for us in this series. Some of the things Stephanie wrestled with getting right, she shared with me, were being a … [Read more...]

The Clarifying Power of Choosing a Lens for Your Memoir

Camera and film metaphors are quite helpful for writers embarking upon the journey of writing memoir. Such visuals can help writers understand where they’re supposed to be in a given scene, since when you write memoir, you’re both narrator and character. In our six-month course, we have a class dedicated to “writing your memoir like a movie” for the sake of beckoning memoir writers to enter into the scene they’re writing at the age they were then, with the experience they had then, even though … [Read more...]

A Memoir Teacher’s Critique of the memoir-turned-movie: THE TENDER BAR

The Tender Bar: A Memoir is a book you should read if you haven’t. It’s the kind of book that stays with you for the many questions it surfaces about maleness in our culture, about identity and fatherlessness, and about the fierce bonds that often form between sons and their single mothers. The Tender Bar, the movie, glossed over a lot of this and focused instead on one young man’s unlikely journey to Yale. Although in the book J.R.’s love interest is an interesting thread, impactful … [Read more...]

The Intersection of Memoir and Poetry

This post is inspired by Jacqueline Woodson, author of many books, including her memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming. In addition to teaching in our upcoming boot camp (September 22-October 27), Jacqueline is a guest this week on my podcast, "Write-minded," where she shared her thoughts about memoir and poetry. She said: When we’re writing memoir, we’re writing the small moments. When we think about memory, memory does not come in a linear narrative. Memory comes to us with lots of … [Read more...]

Theme as Your Memoir’s North Star

Is there such a thing as a memoir without a central theme or themes? Yes, but it’s called an autobiography, or just a bunch of strung-together scenes about “what happened,” which is not enough to make a meaningful memoir. Theme can be a tough topic for memoirists to wrap their minds around. After all, most of us have lived very big and full lives and sometimes writing with theme in mind feels like reducing your experience to just a small part of your life—not necessarily representative of the … [Read more...]

What to Avoid and Embrace When You Write about YOU in Your Memoir

People often ask me about memoir do’s and don’ts. What makes or breaks memoirs? What do the best memoirs have in common? High on that list is the memoirist’s authenticity, the degree to which the writer understands themselves and can create a nuanced picture of themselves as a whole person. Speaking of don’ts—memoirists should never portray themselves as all good or all bad. They shouldn’t take all the credit for all the good that’s manifested in their lives, nor should they take all the … [Read more...]

Memoir, Uninterrupted

In 2015, I interviewed Mary Karr, the godmother of modern memoir, shortly after she had released The Art of Memoir. Just a couple weeks before our interview, she’d told Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air that she felt an obligation to defend the genre. When I asked Karr why, she said, in her wry, hilarious way, that “it’s trashy, ghetto-ass primitive—anyone who’s lived can write one.” And she means these words, spoken in her East Texas accent, in the very best way: this is what makes the … [Read more...]

Why and How to Do More “Takeaway” in Memoir

Takeaway is the most important part of memoir writing that most memoirists don’t know how to do, or don’t do well or often enough. In my memoir classes, I share with students that I came to be so obsessed with takeaway first as an acquiring editor for Seal Press, because I knew as soon as I got to an editorial meeting, the marketing team would ask, “What’s the takeaway?” If it wasn’t apparent, the book wasn’t acquirable. Later, as I began to teach this genre and shepherd more authors through the … [Read more...]