Mitch Albom: The Keys to a Memoir (Plus Prompt)

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Whenever my nonfiction gets personal and I write a column or essay featuring myself as a character, I tend to really cut loose—and often end up with 3,000 words for a 750-word piece. I’m powerless: As soon as “I” comes into play, my internal journalist and editor takes a coffee break and returns, aghast, to find an unruly piece loaded with, well, way too much information. He then takes out his literary chainsaw and (painfully, word by word) slices the whole thing down to something manageable while I look on, shuddering.

Which is why, to cut down on the pain later and focus my writing, I try to remind myself of the first sentence of the following advice before I start (especially, Lord forbid, I ever stretch such a piece into memoir length). Here's the latest in our Top 20 Tips from WD in 2009 series.

No. 7: The Keys To a Memoir

“Anyone who tries to write a memoir needs to keep in mind that what’s interesting to you isn’t necessarily interesting to a reader. Are you writing a book because you just think it’s fascinating, or because you just want to tell your story? I don’t think those are good reasons. A memoir should have some uplifting quality, inspiring or illuminating, and that’s what separates a life story that can influence other people.”
Mitch Albom, as interviewed in our October 2009 issue (check it out here).

Also, sorry for the radio silence Wednesday—we’re in the process of plowing through the endgame for the February 2010 issue of WD magazine right now. Be sure to check back next week—I’ve got a Q&A about literary journals lined up with one of my favorite authors to work with (for those of us in the Literary Journal Challenge).

Onward!

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WRITING PROMPT: “You did what?!”

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings.

You take the manuscript, cross out his name, and write your own.
“I’ve earned it,” you say.

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