Memoir Writing: Back to the Basics

I’m happy to share here a truly excellent guest blog recently posted on writing guru, Jane Friedman’s, web page that revisits the basics of Memoir Writing. Not being formally educated in story telling and creative writing myself and not having even attempted story telling and creative writing until 2008, it took me the better part of seven years to self-learn and get up to speed on what it meant to write a story and to write creatively.

Jane Friedman’s guest blogger, Cyndy Etler, shares “How to Write Your Memoir with Fun, Easy Lists”

The title of the post is a bit deceiving, because this post does way more than its lighthearted title suggests. It is a basic primer of all that is necessary to pull off writing a coherent memoir. It is everything that it took me the better part of seven years to understand and retain (by reading countless how-to-write-memoir blogs, and how-to-write-memoir books, and reading good memoirs written by good writers and so-so memoirs written by good writers and trying to figure out what made one good and one so-so, etc.). But take note: Etler’s post is way more than the fabulous primer it promises to be. It’s the one post you might do well to re-read after having written your first draft . . . and second draft . . . and third draft. This post might be the very thing to save you when you’ve somehow drifted off from your original plan, when perhaps you started off winging it (you pantster, you!) and now need structure, or you carefully planned it out (you plotter, you!) but lost your notes or your focus along the way.

Memoirs are far more difficult than I imagined (I know this after tackling several drafts of my own and helping a good friend with his own), especially if story telling and creative writing is new to you. I know there are tons of people out there who are like me, who have experienced something so profound, they feel compelled to write (possibly for the first time in their lives). To them, I say, “Go for it! Write that memoir!” It’s not easy. It takes lots of self-study if you were never schooled in story telling and creative writing, but I think it’s worth it to learn what you can from the massive amount of resources out there (search ‘memoir blogs’ in any search engine and be prepared to be overwhelmed). It’s enough to get you going, and the rest of it will depend on what you already subconsciously know about telling stories and doing it well–whether via your instincts or via your lifetime exposure to good books, movies and ballads, and even your memories of those storytelling friends and relatives in your own life whose stories made an impression on you. All of this counts as your self-education in the rewarding (though sometimes frustrating!) realm of writing stories and, specifically, writing memoir for the first time.


Three Reasons I Could Stop Writing Memoir But Won’t

Timely read, given that I have recently put my third-draft-in-progress memoir on the side (yet again). Deeper still I need to go. There is no end to the layers I’m undoing with each draft . . . that alone is a tremendous challenge. But by far, the bigger challenge is believing in myself, in my need to write this story, and in my rightful place among other memoir writers who attempt the same.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz ronitBy Ronit Feinglass Plank

I had been writing fiction and wanted to try nonfiction, so I began with personal essays. I didn’t think memoir was for me; in fact I was deliberately avoiding it. I didn’t see a reason to revisit the facts of my confusing childhood and thought memoir wouldn’t be as challenging as creating a world from scratch and putting characters in it. To tell my own story, the story I knew by heart, seemed almost too easy.

I could not have been more wrong. I was about to discover that looking at something you think you know pretty well with fresh eyes and trying to understand it in a new way is definitely not easy. I did try writing several personal essays but the history of how I grew up kept barging in, taking up more and more space. It seemed part of me really wanted to…

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You’re Invited to a Party! My Short Story Published in Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup for the Soul, Angels and Miracles

Hello, My Faithful Followers!

My short story called “The Desk” is being debuted in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles book, AVAILABLE TOMORROW, November 1, 2016, at a book store near you! (Or online, of course! Here–> at AMAZON)


I’m beyond excited about being part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul family now. It’s truly an honor.

This particular collection of 101 stories (cherry picked out of somewhere between 5000 and 6000 submissions!) is a widely varied collection of stories relating to . . . well, it’s much easier to allow the Chicken Soup folks explain it . . .

Miracles, answered prayers, cases of divine intervention—they happen every day—strengthening our faith, giving us hope, and proving that good things do happen to good people!

Miracles are all around us—we just have to look to see them. These powerful stories will deepen your faith and give you hope that good things do happen to good people. From guardian angels to divine messengers, from miraculous healing to messages from heaven, from mysterious dreams that come true to divine coincidence, you’ll be in awe as you read these 101 stories of true wonder and inspiration. These stories are written by real people—ordinary people who have had extraordinary experiences—who are just as surprised that these things happened to them as we are to read about them.

TOMORROW, NOVEMBER 1, 2016, the Chicken Soup folks are hosting a TWITTER PARTY for us contributors, with an open invitation for family and friends to join us. I’d love to have you in attendance if you can make it!

If you attend, make sure to give a shout out to me! My twitter tag is:  @SusanMaddyJ

Thanks to my family and friends who support me in my baby steps in the big, big world of writing and my big, big endeavors to find my place in it! I love you so much for encouraging me to dream that big!

Warmest love and regards,


A Writer, Quite by Accident

This is for all the late bloomers in the world_2__Liz Gilbert quote

“I am a writer.”

I nearly choke on the words. God help me if ever I am published and then must swallow the words “I am an author.”

I am a writer by accident. It started in 2007 when I wrote a rather long personal narrative, describing a difficult period of time for my husband and I for a memoir a ghostwriter was helping him write. The words I offered were written from a place of pain. The ghostwriter read my submission and asked, “Are you a writer?”

“Oh, no,” I replied, laughing off the suggestion.

Two months later, my narrative was thrown into the memoir, unedited (cringe). The ghostwriter didn’t want to change a thing. Several full chapters appeared in the final book in full italics, presented as “and in his wife’s own words . . . ”

The following year I signed up for an Adult Ed course at local community college–Novel and Memoir Writing. Even though I was 48-years-old at the time, I was a youngster in the classroom primarily filled with senior citizens, peppered with an occasional young’n like me.

There, I learned a few basics–the meaning of words relative to writing, like character, setting, point of view, tone, pace, suspense, and pace.
I’d never written creatively in the past. Creative writing felt difficult to me, like when I tackled my first sewing project decades earlier. With writing and with sewing, these projects required my full energy and took forever to finish. At least with sewing, though, the end product was perfect. With writing, not so much. But I kept at it.

The Adult Ed teacher announced he was offering another class–on the heels of the one we were in–Advanced Novel Writing. In order to participate, we would have to bring in a chapter of a piece we were working on. “You should sign up,” my teacher said.

“But I’ve never written a chapter in my life.”

“Well, you have a month, so better get to it. See you in the next class.”

When the teacher reviewed my work a month later, he gave me a 10 out of 10 for nearly all aspects of my work. My fellow students rated me as high and nearly as high. “You must read a lot,” my teacher said.

“Actually, no. That is, with the exception of self-help books.”

“Well, makes no difference. You are a writer.”

In 2011, I started a blog.

In 2013, I started another blog.

In 2014, yet another.

I joined a writers’ group. From that, I made connections and was approached by a fellow writer (an award-winning former TV producer) to do development editing on his memoir about the entertainment business. Two years later, I still work with him on that project, which further strengthens my own writing and editing skills. He’s about ready to seek a publisher for his manuscript.

Last summer, I spent two months writing 75,000 words of my own memoir. I’ve walked through a second draft, which may not ever see the light of day. I’ve been writing it from a place of pain and have been working my way out of the darkness there, but it has a long way to go. I understand now how some writers spend a decade writing one book. This book may suffer the same fate. It took me four years of avoidance to get around to writing that first draft.

Last year, I also accidentally came upon an opportunity to write a lengthy obituary for a Parachuting Hall of Fame nominee who died before knowing he was even under consideration for the award. I expected my words might be heavily edited and might appear, at best, in small print at the bottom of some page. Instead, my article received the slightest of edits and appeared as part of a full-page spread, along with the nominee’s photo. Not only did I have my name published with the article, but the magazine was larger than I expected. It was a nationally distributed magazine called Parachutist.

Today, I have a couple of short stories under consideration for publication in an internationally recognized book series. The stories are not literary masterpieces. They’re just stories from the heart.

“I am a writer.” The words still don’t sit right on my bones. They’re itchy and uncomfortable. And yet here I am now on my third, fourth, or fifth blog . . . I’ve lost count.

Despite my efforts to engage in other activities I also enjoy, I keep coming back to writing. I find a certain peaceful haven in writing. Even when the writing isn’t coming as easily as I’d like, it gives me peace of mind to get the words out of me, to get the idea of something out of me.

“I am a writer.” It’s true. I am.


I’d like to suggest something to you:

However it is that you’ve come upon writing, however late in the game it seems to you, embrace your desire to write. If it calls you, answer the call and write. Let it reveal itself to you. Let it grow within you till it feels comfortable to say, “I am a writer.” You just never know where it might lead you. Wherever you go with writing, it’ll have been worth the trip. It has been for me.

If you’re new to writing, how did it “hook” you?


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