Writing Your Memoir

In my memoir workshop, I would like to introduce the general idea of writing an account of one’s own life that will please a reader and honor the life it reflects even if, like most of us, that life is not necessarily famous or notable in the usual ways of celebrity. My workshop really is for anyone who has ever had an interest in recording their own experiences in writing, whether she is just beginning the process or has already done considerable work on a project. My intent is that the ideas I present will help any writer consider and shape their material to a satisfactory end.

I divide the workshop into three rough parts, and show photos at each of the three sections as well as provide brief excerpts from contemporary memoirs to illustrate what I mean. The first is what I call “Locating the Corners,” that is, deciding what your writing territory will be, what central incidents will provide structure and drama, what locales in both time and place will be your focus?

The second I call “Denizens,” in which we consider the characters who will inhabit the world of your memoir, either as central “cast members” such as parents, spouses, children, and those important secondary characters that make a narrative come alive. Often these people are overlooked or unanticipated as we begin to write, but by letting them into the narrative, they can provide great depth, humor, mystery and richness to our stories.

The last section I call “Weather,” by which I mean the tone or flavor of the narrative, or the attitude the narrator takes to her own experience. To be conscious of such moods is often a great step toward understanding the meaning of the experience you’re describing, which can be a powerful and enriching discovery not only to the reader, but to the memoir writer as well. We write memoir not just to tell or entertain, but to illuminate and understand.

Presenter: Neal Snidow