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3 Books to help Memoir Writers Get Unstuck

NextGen Story clients are often working on autobiography or ‘life story’ writing. These projects tend to be comprehensive and historical in nature. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing individuals who are writing either their own life story, or a memoir of a portion of their life.

Memoir is a slightly different task. A memoir will take on a few years or even a few months and go deep, finding the universal.

There are many memoir-writing guides out there, all of which purport to help you get unstuck and ready to publish your book! In my previous post and this one, I'm sharing reviews of a few books that aim to help memoir-writers.

I’ll start with three books that I think would be best fit for certain specific people.

  • Your Life is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir by Brenda Peterson & Sarah Jane Freymann

    • In this book she says “writing a book is like building a home. First, you carefully excavate the ground, then you lay a firm foundation, then add story upon story”. Peterson & Freymann’s book uses just this careful, methodical approach to their book. They share good advice and writing sprinkled throughout, and include a section at the end on blogging, publishing, and self-publishing. If you are writing on a specific theme or topic, though, this book is particularly for you: they have a chapter on travel memoirs, spiritual memoirs, “foodoirs”.

    • Best fit for you if

      • You are writing a topic-specific memoir

      • You’d like a bit more of a linear approach to memoir-writing

      • You’re looking for examples to build on - of other memoirs, writing prompts, etc.

  • Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists who Shape Art from Trauma, by Melanie Brooks

    • I expected an anthology, or collection of pieces, but instead the author presents a series of conversations with self-selected authors who wrote about trauma. I had a hard time getting into the piece overall, however I was reading without the intention to write about trauma. If you are specifically writing from trauma and want more material, or if one of the interviewed author is one of your favourites (Andre Dubus III, anyone?) - check this one out.

    • Best fit for you if

      • You are writing or considering writing about trauma

      • You are interested in ‘getting to know’ a few different memoir writers

      • You have considered writing about traumatic experiences, but are unsure how you feel / how others in your family and community might react / how you might weather the process emotionally

  • the author is well-read, author of no less than 5 memoirs, and a creative writing teacher. She is most definitely a better writer than I am. That said, I had a peculiar reaction to this book: it both frustrated and compelled me. For some reason I continued to read, chapter after chapter, enticed by wondering exactly how the author would irritate me in the next section. I found her constant literary references and strong imperative language a bit much: but you may read this differently. If you read and like it better, let me know what you enjoyed :)

  • Best fit for you if

    • You are looking to write a ‘literary memoir’ that could potentially stand up to academic review

    • You have a background in American literature and appreciate references to that literature

    • You enjoy reading meta-memoir by a master memoir writer

None of the above is good for every memoir writer. Each will have their place, though: memoir-writing is a different process for each of us, and one of the above just might be the piece that helps you get unstuck.

Speaking of which... when you are unstuck and getting closer to that coveted first draft: be in touch! Writing the first draft is the bulk of the work: once you're there, NextGen Story can help you speed through the second half so that your words emerge from Microsoft Word and exist in compelling book form.

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