Writing Life Stories, Tenth Anniversary Edition
How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature
By Bill Roorbach, with Kristen Keckler, PhD
Writer’s Digest Books, 2008
$16.99 paperback, 304 pages
Read an excerpt from chapter two: "Challenging the Limits of Memory."
Whether you’re creating a memoir or a personal essay, writing about your own life can be a daunting task: How much do you remember? What’s important to include in your story? What about truth and artistic license? How do you even get started mining a life’s worth of memory?
From drawing a map of a remembered neighborhood to writing from old photographs to composing open letters that reveal the power of your own voice, award-winning author and teacher Bill Roorbach offers innovative techniques that will trigger ideas for all writers of creative nonfiction. With humor and candor, this completely revised and updated second edition of Writing Life Stories—which includes dozens of new lessons and exercises—will teach you to see your life more clearly and show you why real stories are often the most compelling ones.
Praise for Writing Life Stories
“Writing Life Stories is an inspiring way to begin writing a memoir. Roorbach is a fine author whose enthusiasm is infectious.”
—Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, founding editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine
“Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories is brimming with valuable suggestions, evocative assignments, insights into the writing process, and shrewd common sense. I can’t wait to try some of his ideas in the classroom and on myself. This writing guide delivers the goods.”
—Phillip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay
About the Authors
Bill Roorbach writes fiction and nonfiction, and is the author of numerous books, including a novel, The Smallest Color, and a book of stories, Big Bend, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. The title story, “Big Bend,” won an O. Henry Prize as well. Temple Stream: a Rural Odyssey, his most recent book, won the 2006 Maine Book Award in nonfiction and received a Furthermore Grant from the Kaplan Foundation. Other books are Into Woods (essays); Summers with Juliet (memoir); A Place on Water (essays, with Robert Kimber and Wesley McNair), A Healing Touch (essays, with Gerry Boyle, Wesley McNair, Richard Russo, Susan Sterling, and Monica Wood). Bill is also the editor of the Oxford anthology Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: The Art of Truth. His short work has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, New York, The New York Times Magazine, and many others. He has taught at the University of Maine at Farmington, Ohio State, and Colby College, and currently holds the William H.P. Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He lives in Farmington, Maine, and is at work on a novel. For more information, updated biography, signed copies of books, news about readings and workshops, and to send queries and comments directly to the author, go to www.billroorbach.com.
To read an interview with Bill, click here.
Kristen Keckler is a teacher, writer, and editor whose PhD (University of North Texas) is in the field of creative nonfiction. She writes in all genres—nonfiction, fiction, and poetry—and her work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Ecotone, The Sonora Review, The Dallas Morning News, Cold-Drill, Palo Alto Review, and Concho River Review. She was editor-in-chief of North Texas Review an editor of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction, a national book contest co-sponsored by the UNT Press. On the way she’s worked as a clown, a cook, a librarian, and a group home counselor. She’s just completing a memoir about life and work called What Do You Do?
Table of Contents for Writing Life Stories, 10th Anniv. Ed.
1. Getting Started
4. Big Ideas
5. Characters and Character
6. Stage Presence
7. Finding the Facts
8. Metaphor and Meaning
9. Saying It Right
10. Building a Building
11. Getting Published
Appendix A: “Into Woods” by Bill Roorbach
Appendix B: “The Olive Jar” by Kristen Keckler
Appendix C: “On Apprenticeship” by Bill Roorbach
Appendix D: Suggested Readings in Creative Nonfiction