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During Our Hiatus, What Changed?

Welcome back to the Write My Memoirs blog. We were missing in action for quite a while due to a combination of estate law, technological difficulties and time management. Sounds like it would make a great memoir, right? Unfortunately, the details are too boring for that. Now that we’re back on track, we’d much rather hear what you’ve been doing.
That interactive piece is probably what changed the most during our hiatus from blog nation. People expect to have input after reading something online and are less afraid of sharing. We post pictures of our kids, candidly answer wacky quiz questions, find memes that express our political views—we’re each an open book these days. No surprise, then, that memoirs are more in fashion than ever!
Good Reads lists 57 books tagged as “memoirs” that have been published recently.
At stackedbooks.com, they talk about the emerging category of memoirs aimed specifically for young adults.
There’s already buzz about memoirs coming out in 2016 from as disparate sources as TV’s Empire actress Taraji P. Henson, Beach Boys singer Mike Love and, posthumously, South African icon Nelson Mandela.
Each life is unique; each life story is valuable and, typically, quite entertaining. You can gather up everything you’ve been posting on social media and cobble together a pretty compelling narrative. So tell us: when are you planning to write your autobiography? At Write My Memoirs, we can help you get started, get unstuck from writer’s block in the middle of the process and publish your work when you’ve completed your book. We’re back—leave us a comment!

Welcome back to the Write My Memoirs blog. We were missing in action for quite a while due to a combination of estate law, technological difficulties and time management. Sounds like it would make a great memoir, right? Unfortunately, the details are too boring for that. Now that we’re back on track, we’d much rather hear what you’ve been doing.

That interactive piece is probably what changed the most during our hiatus from blog nation. People expect to have input after reading something online and are less afraid of sharing. We post pictures of our kids, candidly answer wacky quiz questions, find memes that express our political views—we’re each an open book these days. No surprise, then, that memoirs are more in fashion than ever!

  • Good Reads lists 57 books tagged as “memoirs” that have been published recently.
  • At stackedbooks.com, they talk about the emerging category of memoirs aimed specifically for young adults.
  • There’s already buzz about memoirs coming out in 2016 from as disparate sources as TV’s Empire actress Taraji P. Henson, Beach Boys singer Mike Love and, posthumously, South African icon Nelson Mandela.

Each life is unique; each life story is valuable and, typically, quite entertaining. You can gather up everything you’ve been posting on social media and cobble together a pretty compelling narrative. So tell us: when are you planning to write your autobiography? At Write My Memoirs, we can help you get started, get unstuck from writer’s block in the middle of the process and publish your work when you’ve completed your book. We’re back—leave us a comment!

August 4th, 2015 by admin


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Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 8: Silence Your Inner Critic

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 8: Silence Your Inner Critic
We’re getting toward the back of the pack here with our look at Writer’s Digest’s 10 rules of writing. We’re all critical of our own work. Should we heed the caution of that inner critic or push “ignore”?
James Scott Bell recommends following this rule. Otherwise, he predicts, “you’ll freeze up.” Take classes, study with a good teacher, practice a lot. But once you’re on course with the piece you’re writing, Bell advises, just “go with the flow and trust what you’ve learned….Write freely; let the characters live and breathe.” But that’s only while you’re writing. After you’ve completed a first draft, Bell says it’s time to take out the red pen and fix the problems. “But when you write, write,” he concludes. “That’s how you truly learn.”
In the opposite corner and taking the position of a realist is John Smolens, who maintains that your “inner editor” is running all the time you’re writing whether you like it or not. With every word, you’re making a choice.
“It’s a matter of perception,” Smolen argues. “Your Inner Editor is there to help you, but too often you behave as though her sole purpose is to ruin your fun and make you sit up straight at the table. Instead, consider her a gentle, benevolent influence, the flashlight in hand as you wend your way down the dark path of each sentence.” Think of your inner critic, he says, as the Word Whisperer.
As usual, I see agreement here more than dissension. You want to give yourself license to write and not be bogged down with doubt at every sentence. But your editor is marching through your head to some degree anyway. I backspace constantly to change a word or a sentence, but I still get a good momentum going. I don’t think it has to be one or the other. Your eye becomes sharper as you review your first draft. I think the hard part is finalizing. Eventually, you do have to silence that inner critic or you’ll never finish a “last” draft!

We’re getting toward the back of the pack here with our look at Writer’s Digest’s 10 rules of writing. We’re all critical of our own work. Should memoir writers heed the caution of that inner critic or push “ignore”?

James Scott Bell, a writer and writing teacher, recommends following this rule. Otherwise, he predicts, “you’ll freeze up.” Take classes, study with a good teacher, practice a lot. But once you’re on course with the piece you’re writing, Bell advises, just “go with the flow and trust what you’ve learned….Write freely; let the characters live and breathe.” But that’s only while you’re writing. After you’ve completed a first draft, Bell says it’s time to take out the red pen and fix the problems. “But when you write, write,” he concludes. “That’s how you truly learn.”

In the opposite corner and taking the position of a realist is novelist John Smolens, who maintains that your “inner editor” is running all the time you’re writing whether you like it or not. With every word, you’re making a choice.

“It’s a matter of perception,” Smolen argues. “Your Inner Editor is there to help you, but too often you behave as though her sole purpose is to ruin your fun and make you sit up straight at the table. Instead, consider her a gentle, benevolent influence, the flashlight in hand as you wend your way down the dark path of each sentence.” Think of your inner critic, he says, as the Word Whisperer.

As usual, I see agreement here more than dissension. You want to give yourself license to write and not be bogged down with doubt at every sentence. But your editor is marching through your head to some degree anyway. I backspace constantly to change a word or a sentence, but I still get a good momentum going. I don’t think it has to be one or the other. Your eye becomes sharper as you review your first draft. I think the hard part is finalizing. Eventually, you do have to silence that inner critic or you’ll never finish a “last” draft!

December 10th, 2013 by admin


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Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 7: Develop a Thick Skin

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 7: Develop a Thick Skin
Of the rules we’ve critiqued thus far in this series devoted to evaluating the writing rules that Writer’s Digest asked a panel to comment upon, Rule 7—“develop a thick skin”—is even more critical to memoir writers than fiction and other nonfiction authors. After all, you’re laying it out for all to see—your lifelong behavior and thoughts.
Author Steve Almond agrees with this rule. He says, “The key to making it as a writer—as any sort of artist, actually—is developing the capacity to question your decisions without succumbing to the opera of self-doubt. You have to recognize criticism and rejection as a necessary step in the process. Being thin-skinned (i.e., defensive, resentful, arrogant) is not an option.” No matter how you react privately—tears, resentment, anger—ultimately you should calm down and consider the criticism because it can help you. “If nine out of ten readers think your opening page is confusing or your plot never goes anywhere,” Almond continues, “they are almost certainly right.”
Writer and writing teacher Sheila Bender thinks there’s a way to break this rule and still tease out the critiques that will help you polish your writing. You won’t need a thick skin if you ask your test readers for specific feedback: 1) “Ask trusted readers to let you know what words and phrases linger,” she recommends. “It’s easier to listen to what isn’t working when your readers have proved they were listening.” 2) Ask readers about the feelings they get from reading your story. They can express good feelings or say something such as feeling confused. 3) Translate any negative comments into helpful language for yourself. Bender says you should think of “too wordy” as “I feel overwhelmed here instead of clear about what is going on.” Accept “incoherent” as “something seems to have been skipped over; I miss knowing what it is.” And think of “awkward” as “I miss the writer’s voice.” With these “translations,” you can revise your work without feeling resentment toward your test readers.
Despite Bender’s advice to break this rule, when you do what she advises you are developing a thick skin. Accepting criticism in a way that helps you to learn and improve is the whole point of the rule. Don’t develop a thick skin in a way that lets comments roll off your back without bothering you. You do need to take readers’ comments seriously. But don’t take them personally. Understand that all writers need editors. For a memoir in particular, you will be dealing with criticism not only of your writing style but of the content itself. Some people you include in your story will not want to be there. They may get angry at you. But only you can decide whether to respect their point of view or write your life story the way you want to write it, despite what others may say.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

Of the rules we’ve critiqued thus far in this series devoted to evaluating the writing rules that Writer’s Digest asked a panel to comment upon, Rule 7—“develop a thick skin”—is even more critical to memoir writers than fiction and other nonfiction authors. After all, you’re laying it out for all to see—your lifelong behavior and thoughts.

Author Steve Almond agrees with this rule. He says, “The key to making it as a writer—as any sort of artist, actually—is developing the capacity to question your decisions without succumbing to the opera of self-doubt. You have to recognize criticism and rejection as a necessary step in the process. Being thin-skinned (i.e., defensive, resentful, arrogant) is not an option.” No matter how you react privately—tears, resentment, anger—ultimately you should calm down and consider the criticism because it can help you. “If nine out of ten readers think your opening page is confusing or your plot never goes anywhere,” Almond continues, “they are almost certainly right.”

Writer and writing teacher Sheila Bender thinks there’s a way to break this rule and still tease out the critiques that will help you polish your writing. You won’t need a thick skin if you ask your test readers for specific feedback: 1) “Ask trusted readers to let you know what words and phrases linger,” she recommends. “It’s easier to listen to what isn’t working when your readers have proved they were listening.” 2) Ask readers about the feelings they get from reading your story. They can express good feelings or say something such as feeling confused. 3) Translate any negative comments into helpful language for yourself. Bender says you should think of “too wordy” as “I feel overwhelmed here instead of clear about what is going on.” Accept “incoherent” as “something seems to have been skipped over; I miss knowing what it is.” And think of “awkward” as “I miss the writer’s voice.” With these “translations,” you can revise your work without feeling resentment toward your test readers.

Despite Bender’s advice to break this rule, when you do what she advises you are developing a thick skin. Accepting criticism in a way that helps you to learn and improve is the whole point of the rule. Don’t develop a thick skin in a way that lets comments roll off your back without bothering you. You do need to take readers’ comments seriously. But don’t take them personally. Understand that all writers need editors. For a memoir in particular, you will be dealing with criticism not only of your writing style but of the content itself. Some people you include in your story will not want to be there. They may get angry at you. But only you can decide whether to respect their point of view or write your life story the way you want to write it, despite what others may say.

December 3rd, 2013 by admin


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Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 6: Kill Your Darlings

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 6: Kill Your Darlings
Continuing this series of “critiquing the critics” of 10 widely accepted rules of writing identified by Writer’s Digest, we’re up to rule 6, which is difficult to apply to a memoir. The rule, “kill your darlings,” advises writers to be careful about including anything that doesn’t really belong in your book. These rules, though, address fiction, and this one applies to furthering the plot and developing characters. If you’re not doing either of those, even if that passage is one of your favorite “darlings,” maybe you should let it go. But you’re not writing fiction; you’re writing a memoir. Your life doesn’t follow a script or plot line.
Even regarding fiction, writer and writing commentator N.M. Kelby argues both sides of the issue. On one hand, she suggests, “Think of your work as a producer thinks of a film. Words are like money. Spend them wisely. Each scene and actor is expensive, and so you must include only what you really need to tell your tale. And if you find yourself saying, ‘But I love this idea!’ that should be the first thing to become suspect.”
Then on the other hand, Kelby finds reasons for breaking this rule. “This approach to editing is the most dangerous tool in your repertoire,” she says. “We write for the beauty of the well-turned phrase and the surprise of unexpected wisdom.”
I have to agree with breaking this rule. Don’t throw in every boring detail of your life. Sometimes the off-the-topic paragraphs or chapters become readers’ favorite parts. Your thoughts and some minor events that you think are special should go in there if you think that your grandchildren and other readers will be interested in hearing about them. Memoirs are for posterity even more than for entertainment.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

Continuing this series of “critiquing the critics” of 10 widely accepted rules of writing identified by Writer’s Digest, we’re up to rule 6, which is difficult to apply to a memoir. The rule, “kill your darlings,” advises writers to be careful about including anything that doesn’t really belong in your book. These rules, though, address fiction, and this one applies to furthering the plot and developing characters. If a sentence or more does neither of those, even if that passage is one of your favorite “darlings,” maybe you should let it go. But you’re not writing fiction; you’re writing a memoir. Your life doesn’t follow a script or plot line.

Even regarding fiction, writer and writing commentator N.M. Kelby argues both sides of the issue. On one hand, she suggests, “Think of your work as a producer thinks of a film. Words are like money. Spend them wisely. Each scene and actor is expensive, and so you must include only what you really need to tell your tale. And if you find yourself saying, ‘But I love this idea!’ that should be the first thing to become suspect.”

Then on the other hand, Kelby finds reasons for breaking this rule. “This approach to editing is the most dangerous tool in your repertoire,” she says. “We write for the beauty of the well-turned phrase and the surprise of unexpected wisdom.”

I have to agree with breaking this rule. Sometimes the off-the-topic paragraphs or chapters become readers’ favorite parts. Don’t throw in every boring detail of your life, but your thoughts and some minor events that you think are special should go in there if you think that your grandchildren and other readers will be interested in hearing about them. Memoirs are for posterity even more than for entertainment.

November 26th, 2013 by admin


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Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 5: Write Every Day

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 5: Write Every Day
In the middle of the pack here with Writer’s Digest’s 10 rules of writing and commentary from a panel of experts, this rule is one you hear a lot: write every day! The idea is to make writing a habit, not a chore and not even necessarily goal-driven.
Fiction writer John Dufresne advises following this rule. “Writers write,” he says. “Writing is work. And you go to work every day. It’s not a choice. If you don’t punch in, you lose your job.” Dufresne feels that if you’re a true writer, the daily routine of writing will come naturally to you and, if it doesn’t, you can’t really force it. “The good news,” he continues, “is that…your writing…goes on while you’re out in the world. Carry a pen and a notebook; gather evidence….The notebook becomes a repository and a source of material….Writing, you realize, engenders more writing.”
Novelist and writing teacher James Scott Bell disagrees. He explains that he used to set a daily word quota for himself, but there were days that life took over and he simply ended up doing something all day that left no time for writing. He’d get angry and disappointed at himself. Then he changed his daily quota to a weekly quota. “That way, if I miss a day, I don’t beat myself up,” he says. “I write a little extra on the other days.” Bell also has found it valuable to take off one day a week and one week a year from writing. He comes back reenergized and adds, “Plus, my projects have been cooking in my subconscious. The boys in the basement, as Stephen King puts it, are hard at work while I’m taking time off.”
I’m with Bell on this point. This is a lot like dieting. If you set very strict rules around your long-term goal, failing just once to obey them can derail you from your project altogether. And here on Write My Memoirs, you may not be “a writer.” Your memoir may be the only lengthy manuscript you’ll every write. So give yourself a break. I think a weekly word or page quota is a great idea, but writing every day? That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and probably unrealistic. I want you to stick with your memoir, so set realistic goals.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

In the middle of the pack here with Writer’s Digest’s 10 rules of writing and commentary from a panel of experts, this rule is one you hear a lot: write every day! The idea is to make writing a habit, not a chore and not even necessarily goal-driven.

Fiction writer John Dufresne advises following this rule. “Writers write,” he says. “Writing is work. And you go to work every day. It’s not a choice. If you don’t punch in, you lose your job.” Dufresne feels that if you’re a true writer, the daily routine of writing will come naturally to you and, if it doesn’t, you can’t really force it. “The good news,” he continues, “is that…your writing…goes on while you’re out in the world. Carry a pen and a notebook; gather evidence….The notebook becomes a repository and a source of material….Writing, you realize, engenders more writing.”

Novelist and writing teacher James Scott Bell disagrees. He explains that he used to set a daily word quota for himself, but there were days that life took over and he simply ended up doing something all day that left no time for writing. He’d get angry and disappointed at himself. Then he changed his daily quota to a weekly quota. “That way, if I miss a day, I don’t beat myself up,” he says. “I write a little extra on the other days.” Bell also has found it valuable to take off one day a week and one week a year from writing. He comes back reenergized and adds, “Plus, my projects have been cooking in my subconscious. The boys in the basement, as Stephen King puts it, are hard at work while I’m taking time off.”

I’m with Bell on this point. This is a lot like dieting. If you set very strict rules around your long-term goal, failing just once to obey them can derail you from your project altogether. And here on Write My Memoirs, you may not be “a writer.” Your memoir may be the only lengthy manuscript you’ll every write. So give yourself a break. I think a weekly word or page quota is a great idea, but writing every day? That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and probably unrealistic. I want you to stick with your memoir, so set realistic goals.

November 19th, 2013 by admin


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Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 4: Write Very Rough First Drafts

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 4: Write Very Rough First Drafts
Continuing with Writer’s Digest 10 writing rules, as you can see at the top of this blog, I changed Rule 4 from “Write Shitty First Drafts” in order to make our blog title a little less, well, shitty.
Author and Pulitzer Prize nominee John Smolens recommends following this rule as long as you never let anyone else read your first draft. Writing is a lonely occupation, Smolens observes. You’re on your own to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Writing a first draft, he says, lets you “see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do before you discover what you can do. And with revision and a little patience, no one will ever know that your first draft existed.”
Providing the opposing view, fiction writer and teacher Nancy Kress rebels in much the same way I did—against the word “shitty.” She does more or less agree with the rule’s intent of advising writers to power through a first draft without regard to how much may need to be fixed as you get farther into your story. “Relax and let it flow,” she says. “Trust that your voice, imagination and sense of character will be present from the first paragraph on. Then, in the second draft, sure, you can a) rewrite everything that doesn’t fit your final concept, b) change any word choices that need refining and c) research details you neglected while you were so caught up in writing this exciting tale. A mess can be fixed. Shit is just waste. And a first draft is never wasted.”
On this rule, really the two panel members agree; Kress just quibbles with the terminology. And I agree as well. Getting yourself to sit down and write is hard enough. Expecting the first draft to be usable will serve only to make you procrastinate writing your memoir—perhaps forever. Have no fear with that first draft, because you’ll change it and polish it. Once you have something in writing, the tweaking comes more easily.

Continuing with Writer’s Digest ’s 10 writing rules, as you can see at the top of this blog, I changed Rule 4 from “Write Shitty First Drafts” in order to make our blog title a little less, well, shitty.

Author and Pulitzer Prize nominee John Smolens recommends following this rule as long as you never let anyone else read your first draft. Writing is a lonely occupation, Smolens observes. You’re on your own to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Writing a first draft, he says, lets you “see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do before you discover what you can do. And with revision and a little patience, no one will ever know that your first draft existed.”

Providing the opposing view, fiction writer and teacher Nancy Kress rebels in much the same way I did—against the word “shitty.” She does more or less agree with the rule’s intent of advising writers to power through a first draft without regard to how much may need to be fixed as you get farther into your story. “Relax and let it flow,” she says. “Trust that your voice, imagination and sense of character will be present from the first paragraph on. Then, in the second draft, sure, you can a) rewrite everything that doesn’t fit your final concept, b) change any word choices that need refining and c) research details you neglected while you were so caught up in writing this exciting tale. A mess can be fixed. Shit is just waste. And a first draft is never wasted.”

On this rule, really the two panel members agree; Kress just quibbles with the terminology. And I agree as well. Getting yourself to sit down and write is hard enough. Expecting the first draft to be usable will serve only to make you procrastinate writing your memoir—perhaps forever. Have no fear with that first draft, because you’ll change it and polish it. Once you have something in writing, the tweaking comes more easily.

November 12th, 2013 by admin


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Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 3: Show, Don’t Tell

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 3: Show, Don’t Tell
Reviewing the Writer’s Digest list of 10 writing rules, we come to Rule 3—“show, don’t tell,” advice you’ve probably received from an English teacher at some point in your schooling. It’s an important rule, which author Natalie Goldberg recommends following. Goldberg provides an informative example to illustrate the difference between how a timid student might fulfill the typical “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” assignment when compared with a fearless writer. The former would tell, Goldberg says, writing something along the lines of, “I had a good time. It was very interesting and fun.” The bold describer would show, not tell. Regretting her own timidity, Goldberg wonders how much her teacher would have preferred if she’d shown instead of told and written the truth: “My mother dyed her hair red, smoked Marlboros, while my sister and I played Parcheesi on the back porch, sitting on the cool cement. My father ate an early dinner of steak and iceberg lettuce each night before he left to tend bar until 5 a.m.”
That’s the difference between telling and showing, and you can see why showing makes for a vastly more interesting memoir. But what happens when you want to reveal what’s going on in your mind? There’s no action to describe, but it’s critical to your memoir to share your thoughts about a situation. Literary agent Donald Maas address this, maintaining there is an effective way to keep the reader interested while conveying, for example, “ the intuition out of nowhere, for no solid reason, that she’s going to leave me.”
Maas’s solution? “The trick to telling is to base your passage in emotions. Less obvious emotions are good. Contrasting emotions are better. Conflicting emotions are best. If moving beneath the surface, in subtext, then you’re cooking. Fold into these feelings whatever outward details are at hand in the moment.” I agree with Goldberg that showing beats telling every time, but I also agree with Maas that when telling is your only available choice you can include a bit of candid emotional turmoil and still keep your readers engaged.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

Reviewing the Writer’s Digest list of 10 writing rules, we come to Rule 3—“show, don’t tell,” advice you’ve probably received from an English teacher at some point in your schooling. It’s an important rule, which author Natalie Goldberg recommends following. Goldberg provides an informative example to illustrate the difference between how a timid student might fulfill the typical “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” assignment when compared with a fearless writer. The former would tell, Goldberg says, writing something along the lines of, “I had a good time. It was very interesting and fun.” The bold describer would show, not tell. Regretting her own timidity, Goldberg wonders how much her teacher would have preferred if she’d shown instead of told and written the truth: “My mother dyed her hair red, smoked Marlboros, while my sister and I played Parcheesi on the back porch, sitting on the cool cement. My father ate an early dinner of steak and iceberg lettuce each night before he left to tend bar until 5 a.m.”

That’s the difference between telling and showing, and you can see why showing makes for a vastly more interesting memoir. But what happens when you want to reveal what’s going on in your mind? There’s no action to describe, but it’s critical to  your memoir to share your thoughts about a situation. Literary agent Donald Maas addresses this, maintaining there is an effective way to keep the reader interested while conveying, for example, “ the intuition out of nowhere, for no solid reason, that she’s going to leave me.”

Maas’s solution? “The trick to telling is to base your passage in emotions. Less obvious emotions are good. Contrasting emotions are better. Conflicting emotions are best. If moving beneath the surface, in subtext, then you’re cooking. Fold into these feelings whatever outward details are at hand in the moment.” I agree with Goldberg that showing beats telling every time, but I also agree with Maas that, when telling is your only available choice, you can include a bit of candid emotional turmoil and still keep your readers engaged.

November 5th, 2013 by admin


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Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1
On these diminishing fall days, we’re analyzing 10 writing rules, one by one, as they apply to memoir writers. The rules are listed on WritersDigest.com, and we’re up to Rule 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1. Yay or nay?
Follow the rule, advises author Jerry B. Jenkins. As a reader, Jenkins says on the Writer’s Digest site, “I want to be engaged from the first sentence and held throughout. I recently critiqued a beginner’s manuscript that began, ‘I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage …’ Well, if it’s an adage, it’s old, and if it’s an old adage, yes, we’ve all heard it. So why in the world would you want to start your novel with that?” Further, Jenkins asks, “Would you be more gripped by an old adage, or by something like, ‘When he kissed her goodbye and said he’d see her at dinner, Elizabeth believed only Ben’s goodbye’?”
However, author Steve Almond recommends breaking this rule—especially if you’re a new writer. He views the rule as a landmine writers fall into; in an attempt to hook the reader, writers jump into the middle of a vignette and offer the reader no backstory whatsoever. The reader becomes confused and, responding in direct opposition to the writer’s intent, gives up on the book within the first chapter.
While I solidly side with Jenkins that a first sentence should grab the reader’s interest, I agree with Almond that you can’t go too far into a random vignette before you begin giving it context. I urge memoir writers to find something more fascinating as a first sentence than “I was born in St. Louis during World War II.” Even if that’s the first fact you provide, throw in some more information to give it some oomph: “My birth came as a welcome event to my family not only because of the healthy baby boy delivered that day at a St. Louis hospital shortly after the United States entered World War II, but also because having a child come into the world excused my father from reporting for duty to the U.S. Navy for two full weeks.”
We’ll tackle rule #3 next week!
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

On these diminishing fall days, we’re analyzing 10 writing rules, one by one, as they apply to memoir writers. The rules are listed on WritersDigest.com, and we’re up to:

Rule 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1. Yay or nay?

Follow the rule, advises author Jerry B. Jenkins. As a reader, Jenkins says on the Writer’s Digest site, “I want to be engaged from the first sentence and held throughout. I recently critiqued a beginner’s manuscript that began, ‘I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage …’ Well, if it’s an adage, it’s old, and if it’s an old adage, yes, we’ve all heard it. So why in the world would you want to start your novel with that?” Further, Jenkins asks, “Would you be more gripped by an old adage, or by something like, ‘When he kissed her goodbye and said he’d see her at dinner, Elizabeth believed only Ben’s goodbye’?”

However, author Steve Almond recommends breaking this rule—especially if you’re a new writer. He views the rule as a landmine writers fall into; in an attempt to hook the reader, writers jump into the middle of a vignette and offer the reader no backstory whatsoever. The reader becomes confused and, responding in direct opposition to the writer’s intent, gives up on the book within the first chapter.

While I solidly side with Jenkins that a first sentence should grab the reader’s interest, I agree with Almond that you can’t go too far into a random vignette before you begin giving it context. I urge memoir writers to find something more fascinating as a first sentence than “I was born in St. Louis during World War II.” Even if that’s the first fact you provide, throw in some more information to give it some oomph: “My birth came as a welcome event to my family not only because of the healthy baby boy delivered that day at a St. Louis hospital shortly after the United States entered World War II, but also because having a child come into the world excused my father from reporting for duty to the U.S. Navy for two full weeks.”

We’ll tackle rule #3 next week!

October 29th, 2013 by admin


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Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 1: Write What You Know

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 1: Write What You Know
From now until about Christmastime, I’m going to be exploring 10 conventional rules of writing, one rule each week. I’m taking these rules from an interesting Writer’s Digest request of some highly respected writers and writing observers to share their opinions of the rules. For each rule, a “follow it” and a “break it” is expressed, and I will put those insights into context for all of your writing memoirs here on the Write My Memoirs site.
Rule 1: Write What You Know.
Literary agent Donald Maass and author Natalie Goldberg square off on this one. Maass goes for the “follow it” recommendation, saying, “Writing what you know means finding what is extraordinary in that which is ordinary and, conversely, discovering what is universal, meaningful and human in that which is uncommon.” Maas notes that it is not necessary to have lived an extraordinary life or have a unique subject. “You need only an original outlook and a fresh purpose for writing,” he says. “Hey, you can always research what you don’t know. But you can’t fake what’s in your heart. Say what matters. That’s writing what you know.”
Goldberg begs to differ, claiming that we all know only a small amount of what there is to know in the world and, further, your imagination enriches your writing. “We should not limit ourselves,” Goldberg maintains. “We should stretch ourselves beyond our borders. You may know your neighborhood, but what lurks beyond the familiar, safe streets?”
For memoir writers, there’s not much choice here. Mostly, when it comes to the writing-what-you-know rule, you’ll want to “follow it.” I do encourage you to do some fact-checking, research your ancestry and ask a lot of questions to people close to you in order to confirm your memories. Still, when you’re documenting your own impressions of your life, by definition you’re writing what you know.
Check back next time for rule #2!

From now until about Christmastime, I’m going to be exploring 10 conventional rules of writing, one rule each week. I’m taking these rules from an interesting Writer’s Digest request of some highly respected writers and writing observers to share their opinions of the rules. For each rule, a “follow it” and a “break it” is expressed, and I will put those insights into context for all of you writing memoirs here on the Write My Memoirs site.

Rule 1: Write What You Know.

Literary agent Donald Maass and author Natalie Goldberg square off on this one. Maass goes for the “follow it” recommendation, saying, “Writing what you know means finding what is extraordinary in that which is ordinary and, conversely, discovering what is universal, meaningful and human in that which is uncommon.” Maas notes that it is not necessary to have lived an extraordinary life or have a unique subject. “You need only an original outlook and a fresh purpose for writing,” he says. “Hey, you can always research what you don’t know. But you can’t fake what’s in your heart. Say what matters. That’s writing what you know.”

Goldberg begs to differ, claiming that we all know only a small amount of what there is to know in the world and, further, your imagination enriches your writing. “We should not limit ourselves,” Goldberg maintains. “We should stretch ourselves beyond our borders. You may know your neighborhood, but what lurks beyond the familiar, safe streets?”

For memoir writers, there’s not much choice here. Mostly, when it comes to the writing-what-you-know rule, you’ll want to “follow it.” I do encourage you to do some fact-checking, research your ancestry and ask a lot of questions to people close to you in order to confirm your memories. Still, when you’re documenting your own impressions of your life, by definition you’re writing what you know.

Check back next time for rule #2!

October 22nd, 2013 by admin


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Why Your Memoir is Good Enough

Why Your Memoir is Good Enough
Here on the WriteMyMemoirs blog, we talk a lot about how to craft a compelling memoir. We give general writing tips as well as targeted advice regarding what makes a really good memoir. But you know what? None of that necessarily applies to you.
Many of you are writing your autobiography not with the hope of scoring a best-seller, but really just to get down, digitally or on paper, a record of your life. You probably want your grandchildren to know about their ancestry and to preserve all of the fascinating tidbits that you know about your family. If you publish it at all, most likely you intend to print a small run so that you can hand out a couple of dozen copies to your friends and family. For those targeted readers, your memoir will be compelling, because they have a built-in interest in your story—either they’re part of it or they know people who are. That makes the reading very interesting!
So please don’t worry too much about whether your grammar is perfect or the structure meets the latest conventional wisdom about how to write a memoir. You don’t really need a focus. If you start at the beginning of your life and work your way through the anecdotes and important facts, that will be just fine. You’re not writing a textbook or a novel; you’re producing a highly personal manuscript documenting, in your authentic voice, the truth about your life.

Here on the WriteMyMemoirs blog, we talk a lot about how to craft a compelling memoir. We give general writing tips as well as targeted advice regarding what makes a really good memoir. But you know what? None of that necessarily applies to you.

Many of you are writing your autobiography not with the hope of scoring a best-seller, but really just to get down, digitally or on paper, a record of your life. You probably want your grandchildren to know about their ancestry and to preserve all of the fascinating tidbits that you know about your family. If you publish it at all, most likely you intend to print a small run so that you can hand out a couple of dozen copies to your friends and family. For those targeted readers, your memoir will be compelling, because they have a built-in interest in your story—either they’re part of it or they know people who are. That makes the reading very interesting!

So please don’t worry too much about whether your grammar is perfect or the structure meets the latest conventional wisdom about how to write a memoir. You don’t really need a focus. If you start at the beginning of your life and work your way through the anecdotes and important facts, that will be just fine. You’re not writing a textbook or a novel; you’re producing a highly personal manuscript documenting, in your authentic voice, the truth about your life.

October 15th, 2013 by admin


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