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Thanks For The Memoir

Article by Tom Gilbert - © July, 2011

Shimmering Images - Lisa Dale NortonLet us give thanks for the memoir. It is the life story format that most offers insight and meaning. I truly believe this because memoir doesn’t require a full chronological reminiscence from birth to now. Instead, as Lisa Dale Norton, author of Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir, puts it, "Memoir involves the whittling away of a whole lot of stuff that you have lived and a focusing on one slim section, full of power, that demands to be told".

Norton’s book is a gem for giving insight into generating deep life reflection, finding your voice, all the while inspiring you with her poetic prose.

Turning Memories Into MemoirsAnother fine memoir guide is Turning Memories into Memoirs by Denis LeDoux. He’s been helping people with memoir and life story writing (both authors and personal historians) since 1988 and his book works like a textbook. Indeed, it is used in his workshops. He helps you sort through memories, fit your story into a wider historical context, write vivid dialogue and discover techniques to make your writing tighter, better and meaning packed.

William Zinsser, noted writer and writer-helper, has an excellent “how-to” article on memoir writing (here). He includes some sage advice, like not worrying about the privacy of others included in your story while you are writing it (that could stifle you), but do be considerate after the fact (you might show it to family members and friends who should see it ahead of time). He also stresses writing with honesty and insight and that the point of your memoir is not “public therapy”. We’ve seen way too many memoirs in recent years that are nothing but whining and griping and airing dirty laundry. Your memoir should add something to the human story – the one that links us all together. It is your unique outlook on life and what it is all about. Resist the urge to use your memoir as a club to strike back at all those who’ve wronged you. Audiences prefer rising above struggles over revenge-tainted tales of woe.

Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards by Josh WilkerTowards that end I thoroughly enjoyed the humor and pathos of the coming-of-age tale I just finished reading by Josh Wilker. Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards is not just the story of a kid growing up in the 70’s. Baseball and his card collection gave him something to cling to, something real, while he dealt with being raised in a decidedly unusual family arrangement. It’s his journey from boyhood innocence through young adult distress, cynicism and eventual redemption.

Reading a good memoir takes us on a journey. We all are on one. Writing your memoir can teach important life lessons, both to you and others. Do that and we’ll be thanking you for the memoir.


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