You hear about the amazing memoir everyone’s reading, that book that’s been at the top of the New York Times best-seller list for months. But you don’t want to read it. You find that best-selling memoirs can throw you off track with your own writing.
Sound like you?
As a memoir coach for more than two decades, I’ve heard this complaint too many times. And I know this: a successful memoir can be your greatest teacher.
Artists have mentors. Painters go to museums and galleries to learn from inspiring painters. Musicians go to concerts by esteemed musicians. Writers read good books in their preferred genre.
When you feel your own worth in the presence of greatness, that greatness can fuel your best writing.
Stephen King, a prolific best-selling author, says, “…to be a writer you must do two things above all others: Read a lot and write a lot.”
I will drill down more deeply.
Read the Best of the Best in Your Chosen Genre
Read current best-sellers and read older classics, too. Notice what you like and don’t like. Pay attention to the author’s use of scene and narration, how they write dialog and show the passage of time.
And remember: Your story is as important as any best-selling memoirists. Every writer with a successful book has put in the time it takes to get there.
A few of my favorite memoirs are Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam, Russell Baker’s Growing Up, James McBride’s The Color of Water, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, and Dani Shapiro’s Slow Motion. I admire each of these authors for different reasons. I could (and have) read their books again and again.
Novelists write memoirs, too. Hemingway’s memoir is A Movable Feast. Amy Tam wrote The Opposite of Fate. Isabel Allende published The Sum of Our Days. Joan Didion’s memoir is The Year of Magical Thinking, Alice Walker’s is The Chicken Chronicles. Look up a few of your favorite novelists and read their memoirs. You can learn a lot and have a good time doing it.
There’s a seat at the table for you too.