May 26, 2024

Why You Maybe Should Write a Memoir

This is cross-posted from Brooke's Substack post. Whenever a prominent person takes a potshot at memoir, I hear about it from my students, or come across it online in various memoir groups I’m a part of. Last week, Arthur C. Brooks’s The Atlantic article, “Why You Maybe Shouldn’t Write a Memoir,” landed in my inbox and in my feeds more than a few times. It made already-discouraged writers of memoir feel worse about their tender desire to write their stories. The piece followed a tried and true … [Read more...]

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...]

Pushing the Fear of Being Sued to Where It Belongs—on the Backburner

Brooke Warner and I have taught hundreds of students in our memoir workshops and classes, and presented memoir topics at dozens of conferences. In every single course we teach, a writer will invariably raise her hand, looking a bit pale and scared, and say: “I can’t write my story because I’m afraid of being sued.” Other writers can’t get the image of angry ex-partners or friends or coworkers out of their minds. If you write what really happened, can these aggrieved people sue you?   Fear of … [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...]

Writing Through Exposure in Memoir

Memoir, as a genre, requires intimacy and self-exposure. It demands confession and deep dives into the truths of our inner lives. When we write a memoir, we enter into a contract with the reader: we’ll reveal the truth of our experiences, our emotional truth. But how much? How detailed? And what are we allowed to hold back? These are questions all memoirists encounter, especially at the beginning of the writing journey.Another question every memoir writer will face has to do with exposure—how … [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...]

Who Am I? 5 Ways to Develop You, the Protagonist in Your Memoir

When you write a memoir, you place yourself as a “character” in your story. At the heart of any story is someone struggling with a problem, and how they change. In the case of memoir, that someone is you. There are several aspects to being the protagonist of your own story: You have a longing or a need. There is some kind of wound or problem. There is an opposing force to solving the problem.  A protagonist presents a persona. This does not imply it’s false, simply that you’re not required to … [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...]