Writing a Fictionalized Memoir, Part 4


Before writing a memoir, you should pinpoint your reasons for writing. Want to publish for an audience beyond family and friends? Then you need to understand where your work fits in. Will there be a market for a book like yours? Can you present your experiences in such a way as to appeal to a broad audience?

If you want your work to be read, you’ll need to view it from a reader’s perspective. Does the story grab your attention? Does the language flow from one scene to the next? Is this something you would stay up late reading and recommend to others?

But how do you go about writing a compelling story? The way I did it was to rewrite and rewrite until I got it just the way I wanted it. I credit my daily writing practice with enabling me to fulfill the promise I made to Vic Lazzarini in 1985, to hone my writing skills until I could write such a compelling true story about him that readers would clamor to read it.

The other side of the coin is reading a lot. The best writers I know say they read widely so as to absorb a myriad of different writing styles, thus enriching their own writing.

Patricia Hampl, well-known memoirist, thinks writers are resigned to the limitations of language. “How much reality can subject-verb-object bear on the frail shoulders of the sentence?” she asks. “Oh, if only stories could tell what I have in me to tell.”

Nevertheless, memoirists are trying hard to tell their truths. The memoir, once considered an obscure literary form, is now considered the signature genre of the age. In a cover story on “The Age of the Literary Memoir” in the New York Times Magazine, critic James Atlas stated: “Fiction isn’t delivering the news. Memoir is.”

The contemporary memoir affirms the power of first-person voice in imaginative writing. Hampl thinks a reader’s love of memoir is a craving for the intimacy of this first-person voice; for the deeply satisfying sense of being spoken to privately. “We want a voice speaking softly, urgently, in our ear,” Hampl says. “Which is to say, to our hearts.”

Thank you for reading. I hope I have spoken a bit of my truth to your hearts.