I taught a seminar recently to folks who wanted to learn how to write their personal histories. Before I began I asked how many had ever read a memoir. The majority had not. I gave them my standard spiel, which I’ll repeat here: There’s no better way to learn how to write a memoir than to read one. In fact, read several. You will learn how the author writes about people, places, embarrassing incidents, regrettable events. You’ll learn how the author incorporates scenes and dialogue, moves through time, creates tension, and adds humor. I can’t overstress the value of reading the kind of books that you want to write.
My shelves are full of memoirs I’ve read and use for ideas I share with my students. I’ve created a list of the good ones–my opinion–under the “Resources” tab in the navigation menu at the top of this page. Consider choosing one and adding it to your Santa list this Christmas. I have three on my Santa list: Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genious; Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History (hot off the press!); and Linda Tate’s Power in the Blood: A Family Narrative. I expect to learn a lot from all of these books.
I’m currently reading two books that are teaching me more about the craft of writing. I recommend them both: Roy Clark’s Writing Tools, and Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story. You can read reviews of all of the books I’ve mentioned on Amazon.com.
When reading the Poets & Writers blog recently, I came across a quote from author Laura van den Berg: “When I’m stuck on how to do something, I’ll reread a book that accomplishes what I am attempting–The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams is one I return to often–and try to figure out how the author pulled it off.”