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Memoir Writing & Memoir Examples

Memoir writing takes guts. It’s revealing and personal – sometimes even painful to put on the page. Here you’ll find guidelines and memoir examples to ensure your story is something others will want to read. Learn how to craft it and how to get it sold. For more resources, click How to Write a Memoir.

How Writing About Loss Helps You Heal

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Just a few days before my 27th birthday, she had a severe heart attack. I returned to Ohio, never imagining I’d remain there for over a year—Mom spending that entire time in one hospital or another, battling congestive heart failure, stomach paralysis, ventilator dependency, and lung cancer (the thing that would ultimately claim her life). I didn’t write during those months. I didn’t have any time. I was too tired. There was too much other stuff to think about.

Guest column by Sean Manning, author of The Things That Need Doing (Dec. 2010, Broadway), a memoir that Publishers Weekly called “a universal story … tremendously moving.” Read more

Writing Memoir: Art vs. Confessional

Continuing with the theme of memoir this week, Susan Cushman (pictured above) is today’s guest on NO RULES. Like Darrelyn Saloom, Susan was deeply impacted by the reading of Robert Goolrick at … Read more

3 Important Privacy Issues in Memoir

Today’s guest post is from author and professor Tracy Seeley. Her memoir, My Ruby Slippers, will soon be available from University of Nebraska Press. Visit her blog, or pre-order the book from … Read more

A Feast of Days (Part 4): The Last Chapter

Today’s guest post is by emerging writer Darrelyn Saloom, who recently attended the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference, and is offering up a 4-part narrative on the experience. Darrelyn is a regular … Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Catherine Gildiner

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This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Catherine Gildiner.

Catherine Gildiner has written two memoirs. Her latest, After the Falls (Nov. 2010, Knopf) is about growing up in the 1960s. Her acclaimed first memoir, Too Close to the Falls, followed her, ages 4-13 in small-town America. Read more

Memoir Queries vs. Proposals

Because memoirs are narrative stories that, though nonfiction, flow much the way a novel does, some agents prefer that you send a query letter for your memoir just as you would for a novel. Other agents treat memoirs like other nonfiction submissions and prefer that you send a book proposal up front.
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Agent Michael Larsen On: 4 Reasons You May Want to Transform That Memoir Into a Novel

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If you’re writing a memoir (a me-moir to the cynical), you may wonder whether it would be better to fictionalize elements and release your story as a novel. What reasons might there be for making that decision?
1. Legal Reasons
Publishers are extremely wary about anything that might cause litigation. If you’re going to include unflattering things about living people, they may sue.
2. Personal Reasons
Fictionalizing your past may make it easier to write about. A memoir is constrained by the truth. Writing fiction liberates you to alter your experience as you wish. Read more

How to “Up the Stakes” for Your Main Character

Don’t be afraid to make things hard on your characters. You should always come up with several different problems to choose from. Here are 3 ways to do that.

by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
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How to Write Your Life Story or Memoir (and Get Your Work Critiqued!)

If you’re interested in writing life stories or a memoir, we have a special webinar guest coming up. Linda Joy Myers is the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and … Read more

Agent Jon Sternfeld On: 5 Elements of Interesting Narrative Nonfiction (and Memoirs)

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Narrative nonfiction is a difficult and crowded market. Here are some thoughts about distinguishing your work from the pack.

1. Arcs: Like a strong novel, make sure the story and the main character have Narrative Arcs—that is each needs to go somewhere. Finding the arc is key or else the story is a jumble of disjointed vignettes that lead nowhere. Evolution of character and movement of the story make a true story as engaging to read as a novel.

2. Inverse Rule for Nonfiction: The less well known the subject/story, the more blow people out of the water amazing the story needs to be. Read more

Hearing Voices: 6 Steps I Used for Creating an Anthology

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1. Find A Unique Theme
After two positive experiences of contributing to anthologies about education, I was ready to work on my own. But what voice needed to be heard and hadn’t been heard before? A life-changing experience answered these questions when my son was deployed to war. The seldom-heard voices of mothers sending their sons and daughters to war needed to be heard. This Chorus would narrate their stories telling of the sacrifice our children make every day.

2. Set Goals For Your Anthology
My son made it home, defying death several times. I could breathe again. I wanted this to be a book where military mothers could all breathe a little easier, narrating our stories and sharing our burdens. Read more

How to Write a Travel Memoir

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A travel memoir is a travel writing genre all its own. It is not a guidebook, trip diary or marketing piece for the Sunday paper. Rather, it is a delicate mixture of recollection and reflection that reveals how a journey, or a series of journeys, transformed the writer.

Guest column by Susan Pohlman, author of the travel memoir Halfway to Each Other: How a Year In Italy Brought Our Family Home. Good Housekeeping called the book “a remarkable story.” Read more

How to Write Intriguing Male and Female Characters

Understanding gender differences can improve your writing in any genre. Here’s how.

by Leigh Anne Jasheway

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Your Self-Help Book Should Not Be a Thinly Disguised Memoir

If you’re writing a memoir, and it’s your very first attempt at writing (or writing seriously for publication), odds are good that you won’t yet be skillful enough to pass muster with … Read more

Quick Tip: How to Develop Your Characters

Here are 4 quick exercises to make sure your characters speak to readers (and agents).
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5 Steps to a Great Female Protagonist

According to bestselling authors JT Ellison, Alex Kava and Erica Spindler, there are 5 key ways to make your heroine shine. Here they are.

by Jessica Strawser, reporting from ThrillerFest 2010 (New York City)
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Motivate Your Characters Like a Pro

In his session “The Psychology of Character Motivation,” Edgar-nominated author D.P. Lyle, MD, shared this invaluable exercise for developing your characters’ motivations as your story unfolds.

by Jessica Strawser, reporting from ThrillerFest 2010 (New York City)
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How to Give Your Character the Perfect Name

What you call your characters could influence your readers’ perceptions of them. Here are some factors to consider in finding the perfect match.

by Devyani Borade
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How I Got My Agent: Tom McAllister

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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

Tom McAllister is the author of Bury Me in My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly, which was released by Villard in May 2010. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is currently a lecturer in the English Department at Temple University. Read more

How I Got My Agent: Eve Brown-Waite

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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

Eve Brown-Waite is the author of First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life, (2009, Broadway Books) available in paperback on April 14, 2010. Read more

How I Got My Agent: Marianne Elliott

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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

Marianne Elliott is the author of the blog Zen and the Art of Peacekeeping. (She has written a memoir of the same name.) Read more

New Agent Alert: Marissa Walsh of Shelf Life Literary

Note from Chuck (4-28-2010): Soon after posting this new agent alert, Marissa contacted me and said she is joining the crew at FinePrint Literary Management. All her bio info remains the same.

Reminder: Newer agents are golden opportunities for new writers because they’re likely building their client list; however, always make sure your work is as perfect as it can be before submitting, and only query agencies that are a great fit for your work. Otherwise, you’re just wasting time and postage.

She is seeking: pop culture, humor, narrative nonfiction, memoir, or children’s books. Concerning picture books, she is looking for younger books with very little text (800 words or fewer). Concerning middle grade and YA, no paranormal please. She prefers contemporary stories. Read more

A Story of a Second Chance: How One Writer Fought to Have His Memoir Reissued

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Bertelsmann didn’t want to return my rights, even though my book, Heartbreaker, had lain dormant for over twenty years. Doubleday, the original publisher, had been swallowed by this German conglomerate, and of course they wanted to hang on to any book in their catalogue, even if it hadn’t sold a copy in years. But Oh, no no, they said, this book isn’t dormant; anyone who wants it can order it through print-on-demand. I finally had to enlist the help of a lawyer and then The Author’s Guild counsel, Kay Murray.

This guest column by John Meyer, author of Heartbreaker. Read more

Your No. 1 Challenge If You're Writing Memoir

Last week I taught an online class about story openings for novel & memoir. Everyone was invited to submit their first pages for a rather public critique. Beforehand, I tweeted some of … Read more

Successful Queries: Agent Sharlene Martin and “You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again”

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This new series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter worked.

The 28th installment in this series is with agent Sharlene Martin (Martin Literary Management) and her author, Suzanne Hansen, for the book, You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny. Read more

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