Sunday Style: Memoir

1159418_key_x_from_vintage_typewriterI’ve been thinking about memoir lately, maybe because I enjoy creative nonfiction so much and the two are tightly linked for me. An author who focuses on memoir, Sue William Silverman, is on a blog tour for her new book about memoir, Fearless Confessions.

I read a guest post she wrote for Gaijin Mama and then had a chance to ask her questions during her interview at Writers Inspired. I think her approach to how memoir can be almost therapy, for lack of a better term, is interesting.

Where I struggle with memoir is a fear that I am making it “all about me”. Or, getting caught up in “the way it really happened”. Silverman spoke to that problem in  the Q&A, saying that you have to let go of some of those things, and to pick your focus.

In memoir, on the other hand, it’s like starting with a full canvas–all sorts of images, events, people from a whole life painted all over it. So, in this instance, then, it’s a matter of figuring out what to remove in order to have a thematically unified memoir. In other words, a memoir is a slice of a life, not a whole life. So in the editing process, it’s a matter of figuring out what stays and what goes, as you narrowly define the work.

That helped me. Her other advice — to keep the details tight, because details and the specificity of your story are what make it more universal in the end, affirms other things I’ve read about personal essays.

Another other element of memoir that makes me go, “Hmmmm,” is whether I really want to hang out that slice of life, that piece of laundry, or that discussion I had with a therapist, for the whole world to see. Not sure that I’m ready to go there, yet. But in the meantime, I enjoy reading memoirs and getting a little closer to writing them through personal essays.

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One Response to Sunday Style: Memoir

  1. jesakalong says:

    Second try – sometimes WordPress won’t let me leave comments from my Blackberry.

    Lovely and delicious topic, Liz! I am crazy about memoirs – they are most of what I’ve been reading for the last few years. Even though I told myself I’d read three fiction books this summer, I’ve only read one. I took several memoir writing classes and had great instructors. One of the best tips I learned for narrowing the focus and finding that “slice of life” was to determine who are the main characters. That alone helped me see which events were not as relevant to the specific story I wanted to share. I still have big fears of “can I share that? What will my family think? How will they feel about it?” Still, I’m going to keep writing and get it on paper first.

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