We’re very excited to welcome author and literary agent Paula Balzer to The Writers Circle. Here she shares some wise words about writing memoir. Be sure to check out her upcoming workshop, “Writing & Selling Your Memoir” on Wednesday evenings starting December 1 at our South Orange location!
One of the biggest reasons I love memoir is that I find people interesting. I happen to be writing this in a coffee shop in my town, and I’m sure there are a few people in here right now with fantastic stories to tell. If working with memoir writers has taught me anything, it’s that people are full of surprises. You never know who might end up being the next Elizabeth Gilbert, or who has survived a childhood worthy of Frank McCourt. I’ve also learned that most people have some serious misconceptions about the genre. . . and it’s these ideas that can keep someone from getting an agent, getting published or simply sitting down and getting their story down on paper. What are they?
Misconception #1: Memoir vs. Autobiography
Memoir and autobiography are not the same thing. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make when starting to write their story. Memoir is about a specific period in your life. . . an autobiography covers your entire life! Unless you are Princess Diana or Bill Clinton, no one really cares about what happened on the very day you were born. This actually makes your job easier. . . memoir writers get to start with the good part.
Misconception #2: You Need to Tell Your Story Just as it Happened
Of course your story needs to be true, but more often than not a straight chronological telling of your story is going to fall short. There are many creative ways to structure memoirs. I love thinking about why certain memoirs worked so well. . yes, it’s about the writing, but it’s also about they way the writer chose to tell their story. There are countless ways to tell a story about divorce, a trip to Italy, etc. How can you make your story your own?
Misconception #3: You Don’t Have Enough Time
I know, writing a memoir sounds like an insurmountable task. However, if you’re organized, and approach your material carefully, you can avoid hitting some of the more challenging obstacles throughout the writing process. I’m a big fan of editing your material (i.e. your memories!) before you start writing. While writing a memoir is never easy, I can certainly show you how to avoid common pitfalls and maximize the time you do have to write.
Paula will also be teaching a one-time workshop on memoir on March 4 from 2-4PM in Madison, NJ, as part of TWC’s Speaker Series. Check out this and all our upcoming events at www.writerscircleworkshops.com.