View Full Version : Question about a Memoir?

04-30-2007, 07:17 AM
I've been thinking of taking a break from writing fiction and trying my hand at writing a memoir. I wanted to write about my most life-changing year, but I need some help to fully understand exactly what a memoir is? I know it's a book full of memories, but is there anything else? What u felt? How u think others felt? Are there any rules to writing a memoir? How do u keep up a good pace on a memoir? I'm full of questions and I hope someone can answer them. I've only read one memoir (My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel) and it actually kind of confused me a little although I loved it. So...can anyone help me?

04-30-2007, 02:46 PM
A memoir is a story about how certain experiences shaped or changed you. Anyone can write a memoir. Its saleability depends upon how interesting the changes and resulting story are.

An autobiography is the story of your life. As a rule, you need to be famous to create a market for autobiography.

Why don't you do a search for popular memoirs and read some to get more ideas?

04-30-2007, 05:05 PM
Hey Turtle,

You've chosen an exciting new challenge. Memoir is said to be the hottest genre, or at least among them. As Johnrobison pointed out, they are about experiences and how they changed you. IMHO, the most compelling ones incorporate humor, even in shadowy valleys. There is the usual list of Survivor stories, such as the classic Angela's Ashes, but there are others that are less brutal. I loved reading all three of Ruth Reichl's memoirs: Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires. Julia Cameron's memoir, Floor Sample, was not so humorous, but worth the read. I'm a personal fan of Lauri Jakiela's Miss New York Has Everthing and the classic An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard.

The ones I've found less compelling have generally been written by celebrities. Some of them are great -- I loved Fergie's -- but for me, fewer of that sub-genre resonate.

Run, don't walk, to your Public Library and ask the librarian to load you up. Then sink into your favorite reading spot with a huge mug of whatever, and soak it all up.

I predict that you'll become addicted to reading this genre, and love writing it. If you can wait a couple of months, I include an extensive bibliography of books about writing lifestory and memoir in my own book, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, that will be released July 1 by Lighthouse Point Press.

05-01-2007, 02:44 AM
johnrobison, thanx for that info! I'll research on some and get reading!

Ritergal, thanx so much!! I'll be sure to check out those books u mention and study them. LOL! I feel like running to the library right now! But tedious homework keeps me locked up. Darn it. I get addicted to lots of genre, once I start reading it (and if the writing is any good) I already start planning out to borrow and read more!! I can wait!! I'll be counting the days off until ur book get published and maybe go buy myself a copy (Once I start saving...not really the thrifty type altho I'm learning to handle money).

Thanx again! Oh, wait, need to go mark my calender. *runs to calender, marks July 1, then runs back to comp.* Thanx again!

05-04-2007, 01:57 AM
. . . I need some help to fully understand exactly what a memoir is . . .
Best bet: read a bunch. Ask your local librarian for help in finding good ones.

FWIW, "memoir" is often simply a synonym for "biography" or "autobiography," although the term seems to imply less comprehensiveness than "autobiography." There is a subtle distinction between "a memoir" and "memoirs." (Those are my inferences from dictionary definitions and observations of usage. Also see below.)

The classic A Handbook to Literature (Thrall, Hibbard, and Holman, 1960), gives this definition:

Memoirs: A form of autobiographical writing dealing with the recollections of prominent people or people who have been a part of or have witnessed significant events. Memoirs differ from autobiography proper in that they are usually concerned with personalities and actions other than those of the writer himself, whereas the autobiography lays a heavier stress on the inner and private life of its subject.

You might find helpful the entries for "memoir" (including the one specific to "memoirs") in the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus. The entries clarify the subtle distinctions between "memoir" and "memoirs."

There are several books about writing memoir and autobiograpy. One is by William Zinsser. I have not read it, but know him to be an exemplary writer and teacher of writing, whose On Writing Well is a modern classic that I have been recommending for decades.


05-05-2007, 10:20 PM
I've been reading a lot of memoir lately to help me in the writing of my own. In addition to Ritergal's excellent suggestions (particularly Garlic and Sapphires which I just finished) I'd also add The Tender Bar.

05-06-2007, 07:02 PM
I've been reading a lot of memoir lately to help me in the writing of my own. In addition to Ritergal's excellent suggestions (particularly Garlic and Sapphires which I just finished) I'd also add The Tender Bar.

Doreen, just for you I recommend Road Fever by Tim Cahill .. .


They drove a modified pickup from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego a few years back. I found it entertaining.

05-06-2007, 07:33 PM
Thanks, John! Sounds like fun (as a read, not to do. "Modified pickup" - I shudder at the very thought!)

05-06-2007, 10:15 PM
Well, don't shudder. It's rougher than a motorhome but it's got it's advantages, too.

I have travelled like that by motorcycle and Land Rover. In the late 1970s I took a Honda 750 motorcycle many of the places you went on your bus tour. When I went, the highway across Canada wasn't paved for hundreds of miles, and the road to Alaska was just deep mud in spots.

05-06-2007, 10:40 PM
The only advantage I can think of, is I would have made my husband do the trip by himself!

My idea of roughing it is staying at the Holiday Inn, so motorcycle/Land Rover/modified pickup... ah, no. That's why I'm the Prevost Princess. (Tim calls me the Princess from the Island of Long.)

Sounds like you have the makings of another memoir.

Still shuddering,
(I can't help it)

05-10-2007, 07:48 AM
Thanx everyone for ur suggestions and info! After testing, I plan to research and get started on my memoir!

05-10-2007, 10:37 AM
I am currently writing about life as a stepmum. My husband has had to deal with having the contact with his child controlled by his ex wife and sadly now doesnt see his child at all. Lots of emotion with a little humour pointed at myself. Good luck to you

05-12-2007, 11:26 AM
mum23, I'm sorry about ur husband's predicament. Life can really be unjust and unfair. Which is why I decided to write this memoir. Oh, also, is it alright if memoirs have different names for the characters, but true events?

05-12-2007, 06:44 PM
Yes, it's absolutely all right to change the characters' names. You should, however, acknowledge that you did that in a preface/forward or something like that.

Best of luck!