Everyone has a life, and maybe everyone has a compelling life story. Here’s how to turn memories into memoir:
|Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach. From drawing a map of a remembered neighborhood to signing a form releasing yourself to take risks in your work, Roorbach offers innovative techniques that will trigger ideas for all writers.|
|How to Write your Life Story, Ralph Fletcher. Although written for young people, this little book is packed with great instructions on everything needed to start writing.|
|Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, Judith Barrington. A practical guide to the craft, the personal challenges, and ethical dilemmas of writing your true stories.|
Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, William Zinsser. Zinsser is author of the inspiring writers’ bible, On Writing Well. Here he digs into the craft of telling your own story.
Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir, by Lisa Dale Norton. A compact little book that shows how to use “shimmering images”–those memory pictures we can’t get out of our heads–as a starting point.
Memoir has become one of the hottest genres in books, and within that genre there are genres. Here’s a brief list of some notable examples of the various ways to tell a life story.
The Misery Memoir
The start of the flood of these woeful yet utterly compelling tales that demonstrate mother was right “it could always be worse” can likely be traced to Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.
The Addiction Memoir
The most famous of these isn’t actually a memoir as it turns out, but a great fraud on readers. We mention A Million Little Pieces by James Frey anyway.
As for a real memoir of this type, we suggest Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, Dry by Augusten Burroughs, and More, Now, Again by Elizabeth Wurtzel who also wrote Prozac Nation, a game changer in itself.
The Rock Star Memoir
Closely related to the addiction memoir is the rock star memoir. There’s Life, by the amazingly-not-dead-given-the-drugs-he’s-taken Keith Richards; the surprise hit Does the Noise in My Head Bother You by Steven Tyler, and of course Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace.
The one we love and the one that really got the ball rolling by giving the rock memoir a gravitas we might have missed is Patti Smith’s Just Kids. And, while not a rock star but a star nonetheless, there is the utterly compelling Open by Andre Agassi.
The Crazy Childhood Memoir
People who grew up where most of us didn’t have great stories to tell. Check out The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (growing up in extreme poverty, seeing your mom dumpster-diving as you’re driving by in a cab on 5th Avenue) or Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, both by Alexandra Fuller, stories of growing up with eccentric parents in tumultuous Africa.
The Crazy Memoir
The nerd in a cool world memoir
While David Sedaris’ hilarious books could fall into a number of these categories, at the end of the day he’s a fish out of water and so are the rest of the writers in these examples. Try absolutely anything by Sedaris for a good laugh and a good read, but maybe begin with Me Talk Pretty One Day. Then there is Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess and her wonderful Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, or Tina Fey’s Bossypants.
The realign, readjust, rediscover memoir
Maybe the short form is “middle age crazy” – the memoir about realizing that your life is living you and it’s time to get it back on track. The triple whammy of this genre includes the mega hit Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; Wild by Cheryl Strayed, also known and loved as Dear Sugar, and Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood by Melissa Hart.