I've been thinking a lot about memoir recently...primarily because I am participating in a couple of writer's groups that focus on memoir. It wasn't necessarily my first choice topic...but the new writing instructor, Bob Comenole, at RiverRead Bookstore in Binghamton started his writing class series with Memoir Writing. A number of us who took that class have also continued in his advanced workshop.
I think of myself as playing around with this type of writing. I am enjoying mining some of my memories but am unclear who my audience is. I do love to share some of these stories with family and friends.
You may have noticed the recent trend of a number of folks writing about their lives for larger audiences. Here's an interesting take on that from a recent NY Times Book Review of four memoirs (By Neil Genzlinger, published January 28, 2011):
There was a time when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir, by accomplishing something noteworthy or having an extremely unusual experience or being such a brilliant writer that you could turn relatively ordinary occurrences into a snapshot of a broader historical moment. Anyone who didn’t fit one of those categories was obliged to keep quiet. Unremarkable lives went unremarked upon, the way God intended.
But then came our current age of oversharing, and all heck broke loose. These days, if you’re planning to browse the “memoir” listings on Amazon, make sure you’re in a comfortable chair, because that search term produces about 40,000 hits, or 60,000, or 160,000, depending on how you execute it.
People seem to enjoy either memoirs of people whose lives are so very different than theirs or ones that resonate so clearly with their reality and internal experience. Right now, I am perusing memoirs by women in their 60s and 70s, looking for inspiration and wisdom for this next chapter in my own life.
Here are a few resources I have found helpful in learning to write better about my past:
I like the Women's Memoir site and enjoyed this recent article there, Mining Your Journal for Memoir.
I have always found William Zinsser's writing advice concise, clear, and thought-provoking. Most of us know him as the author of the classic guide On Writing Well but he has also authored over 15 additional books, including his own memoirs. I have been reading two articles by him, How To Write A memoir and On Memoir, Truth, and Writing Well.