One Writer’s Journey

September 26, 2019

Memoir Mistakes to Avoid

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:27 am
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The house my dad grew up in. Alpine, Texas.

It started out as an essay about my father’s 12 hour day in the emergency room.  But as I reread my essay I saw that other bits and pieces of his story were essential to fully understand the impact of that day.  Thus, with the encouragement of several writing friends, I started writing memoir.  Thanks to Jane Friedman’s post, I have a better sense what common mistakes to avoid.

Many memoir include way too much information.  Sometimes this is because the person is mistakenly writing an autobiography.  Fortunately, I already knew the difference but if this distinction is new to you, remember that an autobiography tells your whole life from birth until present.  A memoir is a slice of life.  It can center on a theme, such as learning to stand up for yourself, or a portion of your life, your experiences in grad school.

What I hadn’t considered until I read Friedman’s post is that many people try to write one memoir when they should be writing three.  Not only do they write all about graduate school, they include politics and growing up in a rural community.  The themes and topics are just too far ranging to make a single solidly constructed memoir.

Friedman also warned people to make sure that they choose a unique focus.  Surviving cancer, overcoming alcoholism and living with depression are stories that have already been told.  Like any other type of writing, your memoir has to fill a gap.

A problem with much of the memoir that I’ve critiqued is that it is really a journal. Yes, journaling to work through things is a good idea.  Trying to sell this journaling as memoir?  Not so much.

Friedman covers several other points in her post.  Just remember that if you are writing your memoir to sell, it will have to be tight, flow logically and tell a story that no one has yet told.  Easy peasy, right?


June 24, 2019

Memoir or Autobiography?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:52 am
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The past two months, I’ve been on-again, off-again drafting a memoir.  It started as an essay.  Then I realized that I needed to add onto this part and that part.  Really, quite a bit of backstory was necessary to understand the full impact of the “12 hours in the emergency room with Dad” essay.

So I wrote about my time in the hospital when I was 3.  My roommate only spoke Spanish.  I wrote about helping Dad build a television when I was 7.  There was the time I refused to use the restroom in one filling station after another.  I was 4 and none of them were clean enough.  Dad and Grandad taking me fossil hunting as a preschooler and my predilection for taking things apart.

But this is a hybrid. I’m also writing about my Dad’s childhood.  I wrote about when, as a preschooler, he climbed out on the antennae that hung off the mountain.  Then there was the unique way my grandad punished the boys when they lipped off at the mama.

So how is this memoir and not autobiography?  In an autobiography, you tell about your life.  You write about what happened and how you felt about these various things.

But in memoir you tell about the things that happened and how they shaped you.  A memoir is about what happened but it also about the lesson learned.

I have to admit that at this point, what I am writing is more autobiography than it is memoir.  Apparently I am learning my lesson rather slowly – the continued story of my life.

What a minute?  Could that BE my lesson?  I’m not sure I’ll have to noodle it over.  Not that I’m even close to done.  I have to write about almost going to tech school and Missy, Dad’s husky.  I’m sure there are a dozen other stories that I need to tell but as I’ve already pointed out, I am a slow study.

But that’s okay.  I can only write the memories one at a time.  Speaking of which, I had better go write.


November 9, 2018

Memoir: Defining What It Is

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:14 am
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Since I agreed to critique a memoir, I decided it would be a good idea to brush up on what exactly a memoir is.  My first question was how does a memoir differ from an autobiography.

An autobiography is birth to present (whenever it is written).  A memoir is a slice of that person’s life.

An autobiography is everything – historic events, significant experiences.  A memoir generally has a focus.  This focus might be a specific time period – the first time this person went to camp.  Or it might have a topical focus – the events that contributed to the author’s eating disorder.

An autobiography is all about fact and detail.  A memoir is driven more by emotion and experience.

Most often autobiographies are about famous people.  A memoir can be written by anyone with an experience to share.

And that is what is at the center of memoir.  The author has had an experience and reading about it will benefit the reader in some way.  Maybe it will give them hope.  Or it might teach them how to deal with a given situation.  It could show them that they are not alone in having to deal with the problem.

One of the most telling pieces of advice that I’ve seen is to remember that you are writing about a therapeutic experience.  Something about the experience helped you grow.  Emphasize what it was and how this worked out for you.  Writing as therapy?  Using your memoir to work through the death of a family member, loss of your business or an unexpected move?  That’s going to benefit you but you are writing for an audience.  Remember that or you are not likely to find a publisher.

Interestingly enough, several of the pieces that I read emphasized that a memoir is nonfiction.  Duh?  But they emphasized this for a specific reason.  When writing memoir, do not lie.  More than one author has created all kinds of controversy because they were caught lying in their memoir.  Don’t add yourself to that ignoble list.

Nonfiction.  Slice of life.  Offer your reader something of value. Tell the truth.  It sounds do-able enough until I start looking at all my friend has put into this.


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