The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
We field a lot of questions at the library about writing memoirs. It may be the fact that everyone has a story they want to share with the world or maybe they just want to become famous? Whatever the reasons - a few questions usually come up:
What's the difference between an autobiography and a memoir? - Autobiographies tell the entire story of someone's life (from start to finish), while memoirs focus on one story.
What makes a good memoir? - Like anything, a "good story" is really a matter of opinion. However, the resources below may help you focus your efforts.
Books on Writing the Story of Your Life (Memoir/Autobiography)
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
Bestselling author and renowned professor Mary Karr offers a master class in the essential elements of great memoir—delivered with her signature wit, insight, and candor.
Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr’s "The Liars’ Club" spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well.
For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning teaching prizes at Syracuse. (The writing program there produced such acclaimed authors as Cheryl Strayed, Keith Gessen, and Koren Zailckas.) In "The Art of Memoir," she synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and “black belt sinner,” providing a unique window into the mechanics and art of the form that is as irreverent, insightful, and entertaining as her own work in the genre.
Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. (Plus all those inside stories about how she dealt with family and friends get told— and the dark spaces in her own skull probed in depth.) As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.
Joining such classics as Stephen King’s "On Writing" and Anne Lamott’s "Bird by Bird," "The Art of Memoir" is an elegant and accessible exploration of one of today’s most popular literary forms—a tour de force from an accomplished master pulling back the curtain on her craft.
Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past by William Zinsser
This book by William Zinsser, author of the classic guide "On Writing Well," tells you how to write about the people and places and events in your life that have been important to you - whether you're writing a memoir, a family history or just a recollection of experiences you'd like to preserve or more fully understand. His method is to take you on a memoir of his own: 13 chapters in which he recalls dramatic, amusing and often inspiring moments in his long and unusually varied life as a writer, editor, teacher and traveler.
"Writing About Your Life" gives you the tools to organize and recover your past and the confidence to believe in your life narrative. It also gives you permission - through the example of a life enriched by change and risk - to make bold life choices of your own.
The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith
A recent study revealed that the Number 1 thing that baby boomers want to do in retirement is write a book....about themselves. It's not that every person has lived such a unique or dramatic life, but we inherently understand that writing memoir-whether it's a book, blog, or just a letter to a child-is the single greatest portal to self-examination.
While there have been other writing books, there's been nothing like Marion Roach Smith's "The Memoir Project." Marion has written four books and she's been teaching a sold-out memoir writing class for 13 years. Her new book is a disarmingly frank, but wildly fun, distillation of all the unsentimental lessons that WORK. Tired topics like writing exercises, morning pages and "writer's block" are replaced with quirky, provocative tactics that teach you to write with purpose.
Renowned writing coach Alan Gelb shows baby boomers how to create last says”short personal narratives that serve as a powerful form of life review.
As the baby-boomer generation ages, its members are looking ahead to the biggest challenge of all: making sense of life in its third act.
"Having the Last Say" takes life review out of the realm of memoir writing and journaling - making the rich and timeless tradition of authentic storytelling accessible to those who have never considered themselves writers.” In creating "legacies” in the form of short personal narratives, you will have the opportunity to reflect on the people, actions, and events that have shaped your life and your values, and to share these stories with those who matter most. Gelb's reassuring and straightforward advice will help you every step of the way, from identifying an engaging topic to employing creative writing techniques to construct a compelling story.
Making Memories That Last a Lifetime.
"The Story of You: A Guide for Writing Your Personal Stories and Family History" is a practical guide for the novice writer about how to chronicle the stories of his or her life. The book encourages the reader to write the classic stories that everyone has, whether just for themselves, or for their family and friends or the future. Chapters include:
As a bonus, the book includes: “219 Questions to Prime the Pump,” “22 Ways to Stir up Memories,” and a list of Resources that include over 100 books and websites to help the reader get started.
"The Story of You" is written in a conversational tone that shows everyone the value and importance in writing the stories of their life, whether funny or heartwarming and everything in between. The book is a quick way to get started on turning memories into written stories that will last a lifetime.
More Memoir Writing Books and eBooks
Online Tips on Writing Your Memoir
5 Tips for Writing a Memoir - Publisher's Weekly
8 Writing Tips That Will Make You a Powerful Storyteller - The Writing Cooperative
Great Tips on How to Write Your Memoir - Reader's Digest
How to Write a Memoir: 6 Creative Ways to Tell a Powerful Story - The Write Life
How to Write a Good Memoir: Advice on Finding Your Voice - Writer's Digest
How to Write a Memoir that People Care About - NY Book Editors