New Book by Celebrated Author Anna Quindlen Promotes Memoir Writing

Thumbnail of book Write for Your Life

Many people recognize the value of writing and sharing a memoir, but not everyone writes a whole book about it. In her 2022 book, Write for Your Life, celebrated columnist and author Anna Quindlen lists all the reasons to appreciate memoirs.

You have a unique, interesting story to tell, so please write it down, Quindlen urges. Write it for yourself, and write it to share with others. From Anne Frank to the Freedom Writers to anyone who’s ever found comfort in writing and, particularly, memoir writing, we have ample proof that expressing yourself through writing is a worthy pastime.

Memoir Helps You and Your Readers

First, the process of writing about yourself in your own voice benefits you. The continuum Quindlen identifies is that writing causes reflection, which leads to understanding, which leads to happiness. It’s simplified and overstated, but I love that she promotes memoir writing in those terms. Reflecting on your life and maybe interviewing people who know you, and then writing it all down, enlightens you in so many ways. And while I’m not sure Quindlen can guarantee that this new understanding will bring you happiness, I have seen memoir writing become cathartic for people working through trauma or just learning how they’ve arrived at a place in their life.

Quindlen points out that sharing your life story can help strangers who have faced the hardships you faced. For family, your story can provide a history of their own heritage. Friends will enjoy learning more about you. If you’re a woman or a person of color, writing your memoir is even more important, maintains Quindlen, who notes that nearly all the history we know was written by white men. It’s through their lens that we’ve been told the history of everyone. It’s time to pass the pen.

She notes that what gets written down gets remembered. This is so true. If you journal or enjoy corresponding with someone, you can go back and read what you wrote to make it come alive again. Sometimes we tell stories over and over, and then some years go by and we forget some of the details. Write down your family stories, and then you won’t have rely on one person’s memory.

Full Review on Goodreads

I take issue with Quindlen’s whining about the disappearance of handwritten letters. For me, neither the handwriting nor the hard copy carries enough benefits to outweigh the efficiency of keyboarding and email, not to mention how many trees we’re saving.

Click here to read the full Write My Memoirs review of Write for Your Life on Goodreads.

Sometimes We Make Mistakes…..

Wrong Way sign

We apologize for our most recent email. Please disregard it. As we mentioned in our last post, we are working on a redesign of the Write My Memoirs website and adding new packages to help you write your memoir, and we got a few wires crossed.

Please take a look at this post from last fall that gives you a lot of tips for how to choose a cover for your memoir.

Wrap Your Memoir in its Perfect Cover

More Services Coming to Write My Memoirs Authors

blank, open book and pencil

We have some exciting announcements! You have always been able to write your memoir in your free account here on Write My Memoirs. That courtesy will remain! Keep your writing in your account, and access it from anywhere, anytime.

For many years we’ve also offered writing services to Write My Memoirs authors as well as to the general public. We’ll edit your work or ghostwrite your book for you, and you retain all rights, of course. When your manuscript is ready, we provide self-publishing services that include layout and simple cover design.

All of that will continue. So what’s new?

We want to make your dream of writing a memoir come true. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part, and that’s where we’ll soon be adding services. How should you begin Chapter One? Which stories should you include? Should you follow a chronological structure or jump around throughout your life?

These questions can trip you up, but we’re very familiar with the struggles memoir authors face and how to get over the hurdles. Some questions have easy answers, while others will take a conversation to help you make decisions. There is no best way to write a memoir, but there may be a best way for you to write yours. We’ll help you identify it.

We’ll supply motivation, too, not only by giving you specific assignments and checking in with you, but also by doing some editing and organizing as you proceed. Seeing your book come to life little by little motivates you to continue even when other demands are competing for your time.

Through our new packages, you’ll be able to select the “soup to nuts” option, just the “front end” of coaching or, as now, only the editing or the self-publishing. If you’re just sitting down now to write your memoir, we can have you holding your book in your hand one year from now.

If you want to get a head start, fill out our Contact Us form and let us know your vision for your book. We can’t wait to work with you, and we think that’s very exciting!

Five Punctuation Marks You Won’t Need in Your Memoir

Woman pushing out with hand spread into five fingers

Learning all about punctuation will make you a more skilled writer, and our Write My Memoirs Grammar and Writing Course explains how to use all the punctuation marks. But do you need to have that level of skill to write your memoir? No, you don’t.

Know how to end a sentence. You’ll need either a period, a question mark or an exclamation point, and in a memoir you may never need that exclamation point except in dialogue. Know how to properly use a comma. An em dash like this—and often we use two to enclose a thought fragment—comes in handy, so you might want to find out how to use that. You’ll need hyphens for hyphenated terms like father-in-law and cold-hearted.

You must learn how to use an apostrophe. That one is important, and we cover it thoroughly in our course.

But that’s about it. Here are five punctuation marks you don’t need in order to craft a memoir.

  • Semicolon. A semicolon acts like a period to end a sentence. The distinction is that the semicolon ends a sentence that immediately precedes a second sentence closely related to the first. You’ll be good at this job; your background is perfect. That’s an appropriate use of a semicolon, but you also can just stick a period in there.
  • Colon. A colon introduces a list or a thought. It’s easy to avoid. I packed the following: shorts, a bathing suit, gym shoes, three t-shirts and a pair of jeans. To avoid the colon, just omit “the following:” and write what you packed.
  • Parentheses. You just don’t need parentheses. Anything you want to enclose in parentheses can be enclosed between commas or em dashes instead. Parentheses tend to weaken the impact of writing, and you certainly don’t need them in a memoir.
  • Brackets. This is a rare punctuation mark in general. Brackets serve as parentheses within parentheses, and we already know that we don’t even need the first set, much less the second set within the first set. Brackets also serve to speak directly to the reader, as in [sic], which will never come up in a memoir.
  • Single quotation marks. Although it’s become common to use single quotes to indicate little phrases that writers think don’t warrant actual quotation marks, this is a completely fabricated use. The only use for single quotation marks is to indicate a quote within a quote. In dialogue, it can come up. “I want to see ‘Titanic’ this summer,” she said. So you may need to use single quotation marks, but you probably won’t. Also, you can just italicize a movie title like Titanic instead.

So don’t worry about those five punctuation marks. To learn more, take our online course!

Writing a Memoir about a Traumatic Experience

Bulletin board posted with types of trauma

Documenting trauma is a common motivation for writing a memoir. But to write this type of memoir, authors have to go through the event emotionally all over again. That’s a big hurdle. At Write My Memoirs, we want to help you conquer that challenge.

Roxane Gay, whose own memoir documents trauma, advises writers to be raw, honest and pretty explicit. She believes your depiction of your horrifying experience should fall short of traumatizing your reader but still provide enough graphic detail so that the reader may have to put down your book for an hour or even a day before finishing that part.

Be Gentle With Yourself When Writing About Trauma

Going over what happened to you is something you can’t force. Chances are that by the time you’re considering writing this memoir, months or years have already passed since the traumatic event occurred. You didn’t just sit down at your computer the next day. But maybe the time still isn’t right.

Ask yourself whether you’re ready to more or less relive the event. If you feel that you cannot handle it, there’s no harm in waiting longer, letting more time pass between the you that faced trauma and the you that is writing the book. It’s difficult to write about it.

More Tips on Trauma Documentation

One way to find out whether you’re up to the task is to start out by writing just 15 or 20 minutes a day. Keep that up for a week, and you’ll know whether telling your story is providing a sense of relief or compounding your anxiety.

Writing for Writer’s Digest, author Kelly Clink shares tips from her own experience writing about her brother’s death by suicide. She advises writers not to keep this writing goal to yourself. As you’re writing about a traumatic event, she says, it will help to alert your therapist, family members and friends that you’re in the process of sorting out this terrible event by writing about it.

Making Your Story Relatable

Clink and other experts make the distinction between a memoir you write as therapy and a memoir you write to sell. The former is for you, the latter for everyone else. If your goal is to get closure or work out your feelings of trauma, then include the content you need for your own wellbeing. If your goal is to help others, that’s a whole different book. In that case, you’re writing for them, not for you, and you should be more selective in your content as well as less indulgent in your writing voice. Of course, you can do both. Write the book for yourself, and use that as the foundation for crafting a different, more marketable memoir.

The way to write for others is to make your personal story relatable to a lot of people. Think about what they will want to take from your experience. That doesn’t mean you should make it a how-to guide on recovering from trauma. Tell the story as a dramatic, compelling, page-turning saga. Then it can be both a valuable book for your readers and a statement of your own triumph over, or acceptance of, your traumatic ordeal.

“Life and Times”: Your Memoir Will Document Both

Silhouette of person's head watching fireworks

Friends, this post was written just hours before the July 4 holiday of 2022 turned tragic. What a sad event to drive home the point that, through your memoir, you have an opportunity to add your personal documentation to a shared history.

 

After today’s fireworks, another Independence Day goes into the books. I mean that literally—Independence Day 2022 may find itself in a memoir someday. As you write your memoir and cover past decades, you may find yourself referring to holidays and current events.

Your Memoir Shapes History

Storytellers control how people remember historical events, as we’re reminded by futurist Erwin McManus’s quote that “whoever tells the best story shapes the culture” and the song in the Hamilton musical asking, “Who tells your story?” Your memoir will take its place among the chronicles of a certain time and place. When you write about your life in 1956 London or 1975 Los Angeles, your published memoir presents as valid a portrayal as any other work describing that place and time.

The pandemic is a perfect example. How could anyone whose childhood spanned the pandemic neglect to describe what life was like when businesses were shuttered, city subways empty, families unable to gather indoors? Perhaps their descendants will know that in 2020 a virus interrupted normal life, but through a memoir they’ll discover the impact on their dad or grandmother in a particular location. A memoir set in New York City will report conditions quite different from one set in rural Wyoming.

Volumes have been written about World War II, but each individual soldier has unique memories from the war. A soldier’s memoir will use the war as both a backdrop and a focal point, and in that way the memoir author will add details in color and texture to what the world knows about the war years.

Uneventful times, if there is such a thing, can slip under the radar. We’re taught in history class that Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, but what do we remember from, say, summer 1959? Offhand, I have no idea. A memoir can provide the contrast between the volatile war that preceded the 1950s and the radical changes that came with the 1960s.

Include the World At Large in Your Memoir

No one memoir will be the defining saga, the last word, about a time and place. But writing about your life is important not only to give voice to your personal experiences but also to contribute to the body of work that memorializes your era.

When you write, pay attention to what was going on in the world and how it affected your decisions, other people’s actions and everything that happened to you. Do some research, pull up some headlines and ask older friends to recall the major news of the day for you. When you write in your Write My Memoirs account, click on the “Historic Events” bar to pull up significant news stories of past decades. It’s a cool writing tool!

Include details when you describe your childhood home, the transportation you took, your city’s downtown—and the July 4 fireworks you’d attend each year. Tell the reader about your first car or cell phone, or how you wrote chain letters or went sledding on a hill that’s now paved over for parking needs.

You’re trying to tell a small story—your life. But when you’re a memoir author, you’re also reporting first-hand on the events you’ve witnessed. Taken together, the memoirs written on that era form the historic narrative of its life and times. Don’t underestimate your contribution to that history.

Grammar in Memoirs: What Are Flat Adverbs?

list of flat adverbs in squashed font

I learn a lot about people’s current grammar concerns from the Facebook page “Grammar Matters,” which I help to admin. Recently someone asked why adverbs are being sloppily replaced by adjectives. Examples:

  • Drive slow.
  • Act quick.
  • Play safe.
  • And the kicker: You did amazing.

The complaint was that the “ly” is missing. The word answers the question “how,” which calls for an adverb. How should I drive? How should I act? How should I play? How did I do? These people wanted the adjectives slow, quick, safe and amazing replaced by the adverbs slowly, quickly, safely and amazingly so that the phrases would read: drive slowly, act quickly, play safely, you did amazingly.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Adjectives vs. Flat Adverbs

“They’re not adjectives,” other members of the page schooled the complainers. “Those are flat adverbs.”

According to the MacMillan Dictionary Blog, “flat adverbs may sound less formal, but grammatically they’re fine.” The blogger explains it further:

“Indeed, flat adverbs have a venerable history. Centuries ago in Old English, they were marked by inflections (usually –e), which were gradually dropped. This left the adverbs resembling adjectives, so –ly was sometimes added to mark them more explicitly as adverbs again. And so we ended up with pairs like bright and brightly, slow and slowly, soft and softly, wrong and wrongly.”

Keep in mind that flat adverbs are also adjectives. You are a “safe driver”—here, safe is an adjective describing the noun driver. The blogger further notes that the pairs are “sometimes interchangeable (drive safe/safely); in other cases their meanings have diverged, as with late and lately, right and rightly, hard and hardly. We might kick a ball hard, but if we hardly kick it we mean something quite different. Sometimes one form appears in certain idioms and expressions while the other form does duty elsewhere.”

Our Approach to Flat Adverbs

At Write My Memoirs, do we think that flat adverbs have earned their place in formal writing and, specifically for our purposes, in memoir writing? As you may know from taking our Writing and Grammar Course, we approach formal writing pragmatically. We apply grammar rules as they are generally regarded by people who make it a point to use proper grammar. That means people who know just enough about grammar but not more than that.

What do we mean by that? Flat adverbs are a good example. Most people who believe they use proper grammar will prefer drive slowly or shine brightly, choosing the traditional adverb safely over the flat adverb safe. So our editors at Write My Memoirs advise writers to mostly avoid flat adverbs. However, if you’re writing dialogue, you did amazing might sound more natural than you did amazingly so, in that case, you might want to choose the flat adverb.

English grammar is always a moving target!

Memoir Organization: The Chapter that Pushes “Pause”

Book open to a page

Structure is always a major decision for memoir authors. Should you simply go chronologically, starting from the beginning of your saga and following with chapters that document the incidents as they rolled out in your life?

Or, instead, should you view your life as a collection of topics and tackle each subject matter one at a time? For example, you might devote a chapter to your professional life. Within that chapter, you can go chronologically, but everything that’s important about your work will get covered. Maybe another chapter is about your extended family, your spirituality or your hobbies. Your life becomes a collection of aspects of who you are.

Only One Rule: There Are No Rules

There are no rules in writing a memoir. Let me say that again. I’m not talking only about structure. This is your life. You are the one who lived it, and you are the one who is writing about it. You get to decide what to include and how to present your life. There are no rules in memoir writing. So you can employ a chronological structure and still interrupt the time line with a chapter that is more topic-centered.

Let’s say your memoir’s core focus is the way you contracted, suffered from, and then rebounded from a rare illness. You want to explain what happened to you and perhaps help others who might have the same illness. You lay it out chronologically, starting from the time you were young and healthy, recalling the first signs of the illness, documenting the details of your treatment and finishing with your triumph and recovery.

Example of a “Pause” Chapter

During your ordeal, you picked up painting. This gave you a way to pass long hours, take your mind off your troubles, express yourself creatively, and bond with a local artist who sold paintings on the street. And, eventually after you conquered your medical problems, painting provided a side income that continues to benefit you in current time as you’re writing your memoir.

Although painting has become an important aspect of your life and your recovery, it still feels tangential to your medically focused memoir. So that’s one problem: should you include it at all? The second issue is that it develops over time. If you introduce incidents involving painting into every chapter in which they fit chronologically, you’ll be mentioning it a lot but only as a paragraph here and a paragraph there. You’ll always have to stop what you’re talking about to catch up on this development in your hobby.

An easier way to manage a topic like this is to devote one whole chapter to your painting. Insert the chapter into the chronology of when you set up that first easel in your basement studio. Then explain how the diversion helped you throughout your illness and your life. You can use a sort of future “would” tense: “I would discover that this creative outlet would fulfill me not only while I was sick but long afterward.” Then you can go into the details.

If It’s Good Enough for Springsteen…

I noticed that Bruce Springsteen uses this chapter-interrupt device in his memoir, Born to Run. He singles out one of his E Street Band members, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, for a separate chapter that pauses the general chronology of his memoir in order to tell everything about his colleague’s talents and the relationship that developed between them. He takes this narrative well past the point in time where the previous chapter leaves off while providing a bit of background of Clemons’s life before that point as well.

More Uses for the Interrupting Chapter Device

It’s a huge freedom! This single-chapter departure from your own structure takes the burden off you as a writer, permitting you to explain something in depth without having to revisit it in multiple chapters. You also can use it to preview how that one aspect of your life turns out, tease other pieces of your life you either haven’t yet introduced or haven’t yet resolved, or pay special homage to a person, institution, company or topic.

Admittedly, devoting a separate chapter to a topic is not as difficult than weaving it into your long memoir thread. But don’t feel as if you’re taking the easy way out. When something is easier for the memoir author to write, that means it’s probably easier for the reader to understand, keep track of and enjoy. And that’s the whole point, right?

Two Things You Can Do to Save Money on Memoir Editing

hands and a laptop

At Write My Memoirs, we sit down with someone’s original writing to polish and professionalize it. Although our authors tend to have little or no professional writing in their background, the quality of their writing can be very good. It’s the structure that often needs work.

We charge by the page, but many editors charge by the hour. To reduce the number of hours your editor will spend on your memoir, proofread it twice. The second time, comb through to find typos and grammar. So what should you proofread for the first time?

On your first full read after writing your memoir, read it the way a reader who has never met you would read it. You’re likely to find two problems that are polar opposites: holes and repetition.

Holes in Your Story

There are big holes, such as leaving out that important incident that occurred during the years you didn’t write about because, mostly, those years were uneventful. Then when you refer to something that was the result of that event, the reader is lost. You should be able to pretty easily spot big holes and fix them.

It’s the micro-holes that may give you trouble. The reader is not looking through your eyes, hearing through your ears, feeling through your skin, smelling with your nose or tasting with your tongue. Unless you mention that you entered the bedroom, the reader doesn’t know where you are. Unless you describe the bitter taste, the reader doesn’t know why you’re wincing. Never leave the reader; take the reader with you.

Micro-holes occur easily in chronology. The reader doesn’t know that three hours went by and wonders why you’re describing a sunset as if it happened right after you described the difficult lunch you had with your siblings. It’s not that the reader can’t figure it out; people understand how a day works. But in the reading process, it feels like a hole.

Repetition

Authors tend to repeat themselves—and not precisely. Let’s say you were consistently bullied at school. You developed a lot of feelings around that. You resented the way the faculty and administration neglected to come to your defense, you hated yourself for routinely hiding in the bathroom, you felt hungry when kids took your lunch.

So you write about your primary school and also talk about what was happening at home during those early years. You do the same with middle school. You’re probably not dividing your youth into all school, then all home, which is okay. So you may think that every time you return to the school narrative, you have to remind the reader of your feelings yet again. You don’t.

By the time you get to high school, with the bullying continuing, you’re feeling the same feelings you were feeling when you were six years old. Don’t just repeat those feelings, and don’t tweak them with the adjustment of your more grownup view. That’s still repetition.

Go back and edit the primary school chapter to include something simple such as, “That resentment would follow me through to graduation twelve years later.” In your high school chapter, then, describe the incidents themselves. This will show how the bullying changed when you became a teenager. You can cite an earlier incident that the reader will remember, but don’t repeat the whole story of that incident or your feelings.

Storytelling, not Essaying

Your memoir probably has a theme, and it’s tempting to keep driving the theme home in every chapter. There’s an overarching point you’re making—that’s why you’re writing your memoir. But you can’t keep stating it and expect that to compel your reader to continue reading. This isn’t a guest essay; it’s your memoir, a series of small stories, incidents, actions. It’s a lot closer to a fictional story than it is to a term paper.

When you fill your holes and consolidate your repetition, you’ll be saving your editor hours and hours—and probably saving yourself dollars and dollars.

May Is Creative Beginnings Month—Perfect Time to Start or Restart Your Memoir!

Creativity Month man with paints and pens

By May, many of our New Year’s resolutions have long gone stagnant. With next New Year’s a long way off, I can suggest a different calendar trigger to get back to your memoir or other writing project. Guess what? May is Creative Beginnings Month!

Facts About Creative People

Are you creative? At Write My Memoirs, we believe everyone is creative. You’re creative if you develop computer code. You’re creative if you’re raising children. You’re creative if you decorate a room, cook a dinner, plant a garden or figure out why your car won’t start. Check out these factoids about creative people and creativity, which we’ve adapted from a National Today list:

  • Take a shower! Up to 72% of people have creative insights while they’re in the shower.
  • Spend some alone time. Creativity thrives in solitude. While collaboration is fun and group work can help, it is when you’re alone that you engage in constructive internal reflection, which boosts creativity.
  • Let yourself daydream! Studies have long shown that daydreaming provides a sort of mental incubation period for more creative thinking to come.
  • Imagination isn’t creativity. You might think of imagination and creativity as synonyms, but “imagination” refers to thinking about something that doesn’t exist, while “creativity” is more about making an idea a reality.
  • Don’t worry about messiness. Some research indicates that messy or cluttered spaces can help the brain focus on the bigger picture and boost creativity. A lot of creative people have trouble keeping their spaces tidy.

History of the “Holiday”

It may be a celebration without a lot of celebrating, but spring brings that fresh beginning anyway, so it’s great timing. Here’s what National Today says about Creative Beginnings Month:

“There are varying opinions on the origins of creativity. Some claim it began back in the days when humans made tools for hunting, while others say it started with Australian Aborigines and the invention of the boomerang. Many even state that creativity can be traced back thousands of years ago to the stone age when people carved inscriptions and drawings on the walls of caves. Another report claims that creativity and the art of creation started with the people of Egypt and Mexico. It is also said that ancient creativity comes from Asian countries like India, Iran, Cambodia, etc.”

The website further notes that this month is celebrated by several countries across the globe. “We celebrate Creative Beginnings Month so that people can awaken their hidden creative skills,” it continues. “Each person uses creativity differently and in their own way. There are a plethora of options for how you can celebrate the month of creative beginnings! This is the perfect time to get over that creative block you’ve been facing, resume a project that you’ve been putting off, or simply start a project you promised yourself you would. It can be simple, complex, fun, serious, or anything.”

Creative Beginnings of Writing Your Memoir

Coming to WriteMyMemoirs.com is a great first step for getting your memoir on track! We have suggestions to inspire your creative flow, and we’re happy to help with the writing as you proceed, the editing along the way, and the self-publishing when you’ve finished.

So how do you start? Write one sentence. Then write another. Before you know it, you have a paragraph. Write another paragraph. Before you know it, you have a chapter. Write another chapter. Before you know it, you have a memoir. It’s just like any other journey: one step at a time.

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Then just set up a chapter and start writing your memoir. Don’t worry about rules. There are no rules to writing your memoir; there are only trends. These trends are based on techniques and features identified in current top-selling memoirs. At best, they’re the flavor of the month. If you’re capturing your life in print for your family, for your own gratification or to inspire readers, rather than aiming to set off Hollywood screenplay bidding wars, these trends don’t even apply to you. You’ll write the memoir that suits you best, and it will be timeless, not trend-driven.There are no rules, but there are four steps:

1. Theme/framework
2. Writing
3. Editing/polishing
4. Self-publishing

You’ve researched this, too, and you’ve been shocked at the price for getting help with any one of those steps, much less all four. That’s because most memoir sites promise to commercialize your work. They’ll follow a formula based on current memoir trends, because they want to convince you that they can turn your memoir into a best-seller. These sites overwhelm you with unnecessary information not to help you, the memoir author, but to address Search Engine Optimization (SEO) algorithms so they can sell more.

That’s not what we do at Write My Memoirs. Our small community of coaches, writers and editors are every bit as skilled as any you’ll find, and we charge appropriately for their expertise and the time they’ll spend helping you craft a compelling, enjoyable read. But you won’t pay an upcharge for that extra commercialization, the marketing that follows, and the pages of intimidating “advice.” You can sell your book if you like—we have ISBNs available for you—but our organic process of capturing your story takes a noncommercial path.

If you want help with any or all of the four steps above, choose from our services or save money by selecting one of our packages. SCHEDULE A CALL TODAY if you’d like to talk about what’s right for you. One year from now, you can be holding your published memoir in your hand. And at that point, it will be a big deal!