What a Difference a Day Makes – Some Thoughts on Memoir

This summer I am teaching another in a series of memoir workshops. My approach in this class is somewhat different from previous classes. Instead of offering a number of writing prompts and approaches for initiating the story lines, I asked the participants to determine a thread or theme for the entire 6 weeks, creating the goal of a completed piece or series, declaring the outcome of success and achievement from the start.
In reading memoir in the last few years, I keep encountering the profile of the privileged woman with a loyal and committed husband, a successful career (often as a freelance writer), even a great cat or dog, and a malaise that can only be satisfied by taking a year off in some exotic land or ritualistic endeavor. Of course, there is likely the complaint of a decrease in discretionary funding but it will all work out because these women also have book deals.

Another model for a successful memoir is often the pot-boiler tell-all that shares the sordid and painful details of a troubled life, the horrid things that an individual has endured and every skeleton uncloseted for the shock value and loads of book sales, especially if the author is famous or the child of someone famous.

Then there are the exceptions to these two examples, the well-written, touching, and authentic sharing of one’s personal story. Anne Lamott is a prime example; Patti Smith, Stephanie Hubbard, Kathleen Norris all meet that mark as well.

Everyone’s story is important. We are losing the stories of previous generations, the ties to our families, our heritage, history itself. Start your story. Start it simply…what was the first day of school like, your first job, your first date, how did you learn to cook, describe the bathroom of the home you grew up in. Dedicate a file folder on your computer. Purchase a spiral notebook or a blank journal. Don’t worry about whether or not you are a “good writer.” Write the way you would tell a friend. Just start…

Thanks again for following my blog. I appreciate your consideration of my words and thoughts.

1 thought on “What a Difference a Day Makes – Some Thoughts on Memoir”

  1. This is a really interesting blog post and one that should provoke a useful conversation!

    I think there's a difference, however, in offering "rewrite" suggestions and suggestions for revision. "Rewrite" suggests that the person offering up that suggestion is doing in accordance with how she/he might write the poem (or memoir or fiction). "Revision" suggestions are those comments that offer up another way the poet might "see" the poem, but always in keeping with the poet's vision or–as you put it–the poem's intent.

    Great blog post.


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