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How to Write a Memoir by Rochelle Melander


Tomorrow, I’ll be interviewing memoir writer Wade Rouse at my Write Now! Mastermind class. Rouse is the author of It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine and three other memoirs. I spent a good part of Easter Monday reading It’s All Relative and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only did I learn some things about Rouse, his partner, their families, and their wonderful and wacky holiday traditions—I picked up a few pointers about writing a memoir.

1. Choose a theme.  It’s All Relative is a collection of personal essays based on holidays and organized by month. Rouse writes on a variety of real and surreal holidays—like Christmas, Pez Collector’s National Convention, and Barbie’s 50th Birthday. Rouse’s approach—writing about more than just the usual family holiday dinner—gives him the opportunity to write about a wide variety of family holiday experiences without the reader thinking, “Didn’t he just write about this?’ Not all memoirs are written chronologically. Rouse’s memoir uses a theme (holidays) to organize it. Other memoirs have been organized around yoga poses, the church year calendar, and food dishes. What will you choose?

2. Consider writing short essays. Short essays are a lot like potato chips, giving the reader a tasty bite and then another and another and another. Before they know it, they’ve read your whole delicious book. Rouse’s book is composed of short essays, each taking on a different holiday memory. Though together the essays form a whole story—and offer context to each individual story—each essay stands on its own. I like the essay format. Anne Lamott, author of the best selling Traveling Mercies and other books of personal essays, has long lauded the essay format because essays are short. If you are a beginning memoir writer, the essay gives you the opportunity to write your memoir in small, doable chunks.

3. Be funny. Rouse’s memoir is at points laugh-out-loud funny. But don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a light read. Rouse also deals with the bumps and bruises of family life. And Rouse gets the timing just right. The funny parts guide the reader to and through the sad or difficult stories. As you write your memoir, don’t forget to include the funny parts. Readers like to laugh with you, too. And the funny parts provide a little cushioning for the tough parts.

Finally, if you want to write a memoir, read lots of memoirs. The best way to learn about how to write a good memoir is to read a good memoir. If you’re wondering where to start, try Rouse’s memoir: It’s All Relative. Here are a few more of my favorite memoirs:

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott

I Had Brain Surgery, What’s Your Excuse by Suzy Becker

Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness by Richard M. Cohen

Limbo: A Memoir by Manette Ansay

Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith by Martha Beck

Do you want more memoir writing tips? Join us Wednesday, April 27 at the Write Now! Mastermind class at 12:00 noon CDT to hear Wade Rouse speak about How to Write a Memoir. Visit the Mastermind page to sign up! For more information about Wade Rouse and his workshops, check out his Web site.

1 Response

  1. Sarah L.

    Hi Rochelle, I was able to phone-in for the call yesterday and heard about 40-50 minutes of it. I thought it was very helpful. I wish I could have taken notes, but I had it on speaker phone while I ran home to let the dog out, got lunch and finally had to cut out to go into the hardware store. Even in the midst of all that I was able to glean quite a bit! Ha! Thanks gain for the class!

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