Staying Healthy While Writing a Memoir

You know that roll around your middle that won’t go away? It’s from sitting. You say you get out of breath if you try to bound up the stairs? It’s from sitting. The back pain? That’s from sitting, too, but probably in a bad chair or with poor posture. We all sit too much. That little instrument you use for writing is called a “laptop” for a reason: we seem to always have a lap to put it in. As we’re hearing lately, “sitting is the new smoking.”

Now that you’ve committed to writing your memoir, you have many long hours of sitting ahead of you. You can invest in a standing or walking desk, but you’re probably not going to do that. Or you can just stand all day at your kitchen counter and type away, but even standing doesn’t solve the problem. In addition to taking mental breaks from the task of writing, you should take regular physical breaks.

Four goals as verbs: move, lift, stretch, repeat.
Four corresponding goals as nouns: speed, strength, flexibility, stamina.
These are the keys to staying fit; the challenge is to find a method that you can sustain. A lot of people love yoga, which covers three of the four—strength, flexibility and, somewhat, stamina. Some yoga programs also raise your heart rate, so a cardio component is possible. I still think you need to add a walk or run. If, on the other hand, cardio is the part you like best and you also stretch before and after you jog, then don’t forget to lift. It’s great to be lean and flexible, but especially as you get older you need to maintain muscle mass as well. And then there are you dedicated lifters who can bench your body weight but can’t come close to touching your toes without bending your knees. Don’t neglect the stretch, or you’ll tighten up.

If you’re disciplined enough to be making progress on your memoir, you should be able to talk yourself into a modest fitness routine. You can join a gym or prance around your house. Climb stairs every chance you get! Buy a couple of inexpensive free weights. When you’ve finished writing for the day, take a full-body stretch lying on your back, sitting in a straddle and standing up. And that tummy roll you have? If sitting is the new smoking, then planking is the new sit-up. Keep writing, but stay fit!

Ideas for Memoir Structure

For many memoir authors, their life story isn’t their first stab at creating some form of art. When those authors decide to write a memoir, it’s natural for them to want to include their other artform. So let’s say you’ve written poetry all your life, or you have a file of newspaper clippings of your op-eds published in your local paper. Maybe you’re a painter or even a composer. Perhaps you have a file full of your essays or you’ve kept a list of favorite quotes by other people. Today, even tweets or Facebook posts could be considered a body of work. Can you incorporate your work or favorites into your memoir? Yes, of course you can.

“Most memoirs read like a book, chapter by chapter with some photos added somewhere,” writes Nancy Julien Kopp in her review of the memoir Wingin’ It Beyond the Veil by Joan Breit. “Ms Breit’s book offers a series of vignettes that give us a slice of her life at a time. Between the vignettes, she has included scripture verses, poetry (both her own and others) and photos. I found all that is included to be delightful and I thoroughly enjoyed piecing her life together via the individual vignettes.”

If you’re a photographer—professional or hobbyist—it’s obvious to picture how you can use your work in your memoir. But through photography you also can share with readers your paintings or a page of musical staff from a song. You can begin each chapter with a pertinent piece of your past writing. You can pepper your memoir with lines of your poems. Sharing yourself as a creatively multifaceted person will bring readers closer to who you feel you are, which is exactly what you want your memoir to communicate.

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 7: Develop a Thick Skin

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 7: Develop a Thick Skin
Of the rules we’ve critiqued thus far in this series devoted to evaluating the writing rules that Writer’s Digest asked a panel to comment upon, Rule 7—“develop a thick skin”—is even more critical to memoir writers than fiction and other nonfiction authors. After all, you’re laying it out for all to see—your lifelong behavior and thoughts.
Author Steve Almond agrees with this rule. He says, “The key to making it as a writer—as any sort of artist, actually—is developing the capacity to question your decisions without succumbing to the opera of self-doubt. You have to recognize criticism and rejection as a necessary step in the process. Being thin-skinned (i.e., defensive, resentful, arrogant) is not an option.” No matter how you react privately—tears, resentment, anger—ultimately you should calm down and consider the criticism because it can help you. “If nine out of ten readers think your opening page is confusing or your plot never goes anywhere,” Almond continues, “they are almost certainly right.”
Writer and writing teacher Sheila Bender thinks there’s a way to break this rule and still tease out the critiques that will help you polish your writing. You won’t need a thick skin if you ask your test readers for specific feedback: 1) “Ask trusted readers to let you know what words and phrases linger,” she recommends. “It’s easier to listen to what isn’t working when your readers have proved they were listening.” 2) Ask readers about the feelings they get from reading your story. They can express good feelings or say something such as feeling confused. 3) Translate any negative comments into helpful language for yourself. Bender says you should think of “too wordy” as “I feel overwhelmed here instead of clear about what is going on.” Accept “incoherent” as “something seems to have been skipped over; I miss knowing what it is.” And think of “awkward” as “I miss the writer’s voice.” With these “translations,” you can revise your work without feeling resentment toward your test readers.
Despite Bender’s advice to break this rule, when you do what she advises you are developing a thick skin. Accepting criticism in a way that helps you to learn and improve is the whole point of the rule. Don’t develop a thick skin in a way that lets comments roll off your back without bothering you. You do need to take readers’ comments seriously. But don’t take them personally. Understand that all writers need editors. For a memoir in particular, you will be dealing with criticism not only of your writing style but of the content itself. Some people you include in your story will not want to be there. They may get angry at you. But only you can decide whether to respect their point of view or write your life story the way you want to write it, despite what others may say.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

Of the rules we’ve critiqued thus far in this series devoted to evaluating the writing rules that Writer’s Digest asked a panel to comment upon, Rule 7—“develop a thick skin”—is even more critical to memoir writers than fiction and other nonfiction authors. After all, you’re laying it out for all to see—your lifelong behavior and thoughts.

Author Steve Almond agrees with this rule. He says, “The key to making it as a writer—as any sort of artist, actually—is developing the capacity to question your decisions without succumbing to the opera of self-doubt. You have to recognize criticism and rejection as a necessary step in the process. Being thin-skinned (i.e., defensive, resentful, arrogant) is not an option.” No matter how you react privately—tears, resentment, anger—ultimately you should calm down and consider the criticism because it can help you. “If nine out of ten readers think your opening page is confusing or your plot never goes anywhere,” Almond continues, “they are almost certainly right.”

Writer and writing teacher Sheila Bender thinks there’s a way to break this rule and still tease out the critiques that will help you polish your writing. You won’t need a thick skin if you ask your test readers for specific feedback: 1) “Ask trusted readers to let you know what words and phrases linger,” she recommends. “It’s easier to listen to what isn’t working when your readers have proved they were listening.” 2) Ask readers about the feelings they get from reading your story. They can express good feelings or say something such as feeling confused. 3) Translate any negative comments into helpful language for yourself. Bender says you should think of “too wordy” as “I feel overwhelmed here instead of clear about what is going on.” Accept “incoherent” as “something seems to have been skipped over; I miss knowing what it is.” And think of “awkward” as “I miss the writer’s voice.” With these “translations,” you can revise your work without feeling resentment toward your test readers.

Despite Bender’s advice to break this rule, when you do what she advises you are developing a thick skin. Accepting criticism in a way that helps you to learn and improve is the whole point of the rule. Don’t develop a thick skin in a way that lets comments roll off your back without bothering you. You do need to take readers’ comments seriously. But don’t take them personally. Understand that all writers need editors. For a memoir in particular, you will be dealing with criticism not only of your writing style but of the content itself. Some people you include in your story will not want to be there. They may get angry at you. But only you can decide whether to respect their point of view or write your life story the way you want to write it, despite what others may say.

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 6: Kill Your Darlings

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 6: Kill Your Darlings
Continuing this series of “critiquing the critics” of 10 widely accepted rules of writing identified by Writer’s Digest, we’re up to rule 6, which is difficult to apply to a memoir. The rule, “kill your darlings,” advises writers to be careful about including anything that doesn’t really belong in your book. These rules, though, address fiction, and this one applies to furthering the plot and developing characters. If you’re not doing either of those, even if that passage is one of your favorite “darlings,” maybe you should let it go. But you’re not writing fiction; you’re writing a memoir. Your life doesn’t follow a script or plot line.
Even regarding fiction, writer and writing commentator N.M. Kelby argues both sides of the issue. On one hand, she suggests, “Think of your work as a producer thinks of a film. Words are like money. Spend them wisely. Each scene and actor is expensive, and so you must include only what you really need to tell your tale. And if you find yourself saying, ‘But I love this idea!’ that should be the first thing to become suspect.”
Then on the other hand, Kelby finds reasons for breaking this rule. “This approach to editing is the most dangerous tool in your repertoire,” she says. “We write for the beauty of the well-turned phrase and the surprise of unexpected wisdom.”
I have to agree with breaking this rule. Don’t throw in every boring detail of your life. Sometimes the off-the-topic paragraphs or chapters become readers’ favorite parts. Your thoughts and some minor events that you think are special should go in there if you think that your grandchildren and other readers will be interested in hearing about them. Memoirs are for posterity even more than for entertainment.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

Continuing this series of “critiquing the critics” of 10 widely accepted rules of writing identified by Writer’s Digest, we’re up to rule 6, which is difficult to apply to a memoir. The rule, “kill your darlings,” advises writers to be careful about including anything that doesn’t really belong in your book. These rules, though, address fiction, and this one applies to furthering the plot and developing characters. If a sentence or more does neither of those, even if that passage is one of your favorite “darlings,” maybe you should let it go. But you’re not writing fiction; you’re writing a memoir. Your life doesn’t follow a script or plot line.

Even regarding fiction, writer and writing commentator N.M. Kelby argues both sides of the issue. On one hand, she suggests, “Think of your work as a producer thinks of a film. Words are like money. Spend them wisely. Each scene and actor is expensive, and so you must include only what you really need to tell your tale. And if you find yourself saying, ‘But I love this idea!’ that should be the first thing to become suspect.”

Then on the other hand, Kelby finds reasons for breaking this rule. “This approach to editing is the most dangerous tool in your repertoire,” she says. “We write for the beauty of the well-turned phrase and the surprise of unexpected wisdom.”

I have to agree with breaking this rule. Sometimes the off-the-topic paragraphs or chapters become readers’ favorite parts. Don’t throw in every boring detail of your life, but your thoughts and some minor events that you think are special should go in there if you think that your grandchildren and other readers will be interested in hearing about them. Memoirs are for posterity even more than for entertainment.

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 5: Write Every Day

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 5: Write Every Day
In the middle of the pack here with Writer’s Digest’s 10 rules of writing and commentary from a panel of experts, this rule is one you hear a lot: write every day! The idea is to make writing a habit, not a chore and not even necessarily goal-driven.
Fiction writer John Dufresne advises following this rule. “Writers write,” he says. “Writing is work. And you go to work every day. It’s not a choice. If you don’t punch in, you lose your job.” Dufresne feels that if you’re a true writer, the daily routine of writing will come naturally to you and, if it doesn’t, you can’t really force it. “The good news,” he continues, “is that…your writing…goes on while you’re out in the world. Carry a pen and a notebook; gather evidence….The notebook becomes a repository and a source of material….Writing, you realize, engenders more writing.”
Novelist and writing teacher James Scott Bell disagrees. He explains that he used to set a daily word quota for himself, but there were days that life took over and he simply ended up doing something all day that left no time for writing. He’d get angry and disappointed at himself. Then he changed his daily quota to a weekly quota. “That way, if I miss a day, I don’t beat myself up,” he says. “I write a little extra on the other days.” Bell also has found it valuable to take off one day a week and one week a year from writing. He comes back reenergized and adds, “Plus, my projects have been cooking in my subconscious. The boys in the basement, as Stephen King puts it, are hard at work while I’m taking time off.”
I’m with Bell on this point. This is a lot like dieting. If you set very strict rules around your long-term goal, failing just once to obey them can derail you from your project altogether. And here on Write My Memoirs, you may not be “a writer.” Your memoir may be the only lengthy manuscript you’ll every write. So give yourself a break. I think a weekly word or page quota is a great idea, but writing every day? That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and probably unrealistic. I want you to stick with your memoir, so set realistic goals.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

In the middle of the pack here with Writer’s Digest’s 10 rules of writing and commentary from a panel of experts, this rule is one you hear a lot: write every day! The idea is to make writing a habit, not a chore and not even necessarily goal-driven.

Fiction writer John Dufresne advises following this rule. “Writers write,” he says. “Writing is work. And you go to work every day. It’s not a choice. If you don’t punch in, you lose your job.” Dufresne feels that if you’re a true writer, the daily routine of writing will come naturally to you and, if it doesn’t, you can’t really force it. “The good news,” he continues, “is that…your writing…goes on while you’re out in the world. Carry a pen and a notebook; gather evidence….The notebook becomes a repository and a source of material….Writing, you realize, engenders more writing.”

Novelist and writing teacher James Scott Bell disagrees. He explains that he used to set a daily word quota for himself, but there were days that life took over and he simply ended up doing something all day that left no time for writing. He’d get angry and disappointed at himself. Then he changed his daily quota to a weekly quota. “That way, if I miss a day, I don’t beat myself up,” he says. “I write a little extra on the other days.” Bell also has found it valuable to take off one day a week and one week a year from writing. He comes back reenergized and adds, “Plus, my projects have been cooking in my subconscious. The boys in the basement, as Stephen King puts it, are hard at work while I’m taking time off.”

I’m with Bell on this point. This is a lot like dieting. If you set very strict rules around your long-term goal, failing just once to obey them can derail you from your project altogether. And here on Write My Memoirs, you may not be “a writer.” Your memoir may be the only lengthy manuscript you’ll every write. So give yourself a break. I think a weekly word or page quota is a great idea, but writing every day? That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and probably unrealistic. I want you to stick with your memoir, so set realistic goals.

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1
On these diminishing fall days, we’re analyzing 10 writing rules, one by one, as they apply to memoir writers. The rules are listed on WritersDigest.com, and we’re up to Rule 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1. Yay or nay?
Follow the rule, advises author Jerry B. Jenkins. As a reader, Jenkins says on the Writer’s Digest site, “I want to be engaged from the first sentence and held throughout. I recently critiqued a beginner’s manuscript that began, ‘I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage …’ Well, if it’s an adage, it’s old, and if it’s an old adage, yes, we’ve all heard it. So why in the world would you want to start your novel with that?” Further, Jenkins asks, “Would you be more gripped by an old adage, or by something like, ‘When he kissed her goodbye and said he’d see her at dinner, Elizabeth believed only Ben’s goodbye’?”
However, author Steve Almond recommends breaking this rule—especially if you’re a new writer. He views the rule as a landmine writers fall into; in an attempt to hook the reader, writers jump into the middle of a vignette and offer the reader no backstory whatsoever. The reader becomes confused and, responding in direct opposition to the writer’s intent, gives up on the book within the first chapter.
While I solidly side with Jenkins that a first sentence should grab the reader’s interest, I agree with Almond that you can’t go too far into a random vignette before you begin giving it context. I urge memoir writers to find something more fascinating as a first sentence than “I was born in St. Louis during World War II.” Even if that’s the first fact you provide, throw in some more information to give it some oomph: “My birth came as a welcome event to my family not only because of the healthy baby boy delivered that day at a St. Louis hospital shortly after the United States entered World War II, but also because having a child come into the world excused my father from reporting for duty to the U.S. Navy for two full weeks.”
We’ll tackle rule #3 next week!
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

On these diminishing fall days, we’re analyzing 10 writing rules, one by one, as they apply to memoir writers. The rules are listed on WritersDigest.com, and we’re up to:

Rule 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1. Yay or nay?

Follow the rule, advises author Jerry B. Jenkins. As a reader, Jenkins says on the Writer’s Digest site, “I want to be engaged from the first sentence and held throughout. I recently critiqued a beginner’s manuscript that began, ‘I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage …’ Well, if it’s an adage, it’s old, and if it’s an old adage, yes, we’ve all heard it. So why in the world would you want to start your novel with that?” Further, Jenkins asks, “Would you be more gripped by an old adage, or by something like, ‘When he kissed her goodbye and said he’d see her at dinner, Elizabeth believed only Ben’s goodbye’?”

However, author Steve Almond recommends breaking this rule—especially if you’re a new writer. He views the rule as a landmine writers fall into; in an attempt to hook the reader, writers jump into the middle of a vignette and offer the reader no backstory whatsoever. The reader becomes confused and, responding in direct opposition to the writer’s intent, gives up on the book within the first chapter.

While I solidly side with Jenkins that a first sentence should grab the reader’s interest, I agree with Almond that you can’t go too far into a random vignette before you begin giving it context. I urge memoir writers to find something more fascinating as a first sentence than “I was born in St. Louis during World War II.” Even if that’s the first fact you provide, throw in some more information to give it some oomph: “My birth came as a welcome event to my family not only because of the healthy baby boy delivered that day at a St. Louis hospital shortly after the United States entered World War II, but also because having a child come into the world excused my father from reporting for duty to the U.S. Navy for two full weeks.”

We’ll tackle rule #3 next week!

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 1: Write What You Know

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 1: Write What You Know
From now until about Christmastime, I’m going to be exploring 10 conventional rules of writing, one rule each week. I’m taking these rules from an interesting Writer’s Digest request of some highly respected writers and writing observers to share their opinions of the rules. For each rule, a “follow it” and a “break it” is expressed, and I will put those insights into context for all of your writing memoirs here on the Write My Memoirs site.
Rule 1: Write What You Know.
Literary agent Donald Maass and author Natalie Goldberg square off on this one. Maass goes for the “follow it” recommendation, saying, “Writing what you know means finding what is extraordinary in that which is ordinary and, conversely, discovering what is universal, meaningful and human in that which is uncommon.” Maas notes that it is not necessary to have lived an extraordinary life or have a unique subject. “You need only an original outlook and a fresh purpose for writing,” he says. “Hey, you can always research what you don’t know. But you can’t fake what’s in your heart. Say what matters. That’s writing what you know.”
Goldberg begs to differ, claiming that we all know only a small amount of what there is to know in the world and, further, your imagination enriches your writing. “We should not limit ourselves,” Goldberg maintains. “We should stretch ourselves beyond our borders. You may know your neighborhood, but what lurks beyond the familiar, safe streets?”
For memoir writers, there’s not much choice here. Mostly, when it comes to the writing-what-you-know rule, you’ll want to “follow it.” I do encourage you to do some fact-checking, research your ancestry and ask a lot of questions to people close to you in order to confirm your memories. Still, when you’re documenting your own impressions of your life, by definition you’re writing what you know.
Check back next time for rule #2!

From now until about Christmastime, I’m going to be exploring 10 conventional rules of writing, one rule each week. I’m taking these rules from an interesting Writer’s Digest request of some highly respected writers and writing observers to share their opinions of the rules. For each rule, a “follow it” and a “break it” is expressed, and I will put those insights into context for all of you writing memoirs here on the Write My Memoirs site.

Rule 1: Write What You Know.

Literary agent Donald Maass and author Natalie Goldberg square off on this one. Maass goes for the “follow it” recommendation, saying, “Writing what you know means finding what is extraordinary in that which is ordinary and, conversely, discovering what is universal, meaningful and human in that which is uncommon.” Maas notes that it is not necessary to have lived an extraordinary life or have a unique subject. “You need only an original outlook and a fresh purpose for writing,” he says. “Hey, you can always research what you don’t know. But you can’t fake what’s in your heart. Say what matters. That’s writing what you know.”

Goldberg begs to differ, claiming that we all know only a small amount of what there is to know in the world and, further, your imagination enriches your writing. “We should not limit ourselves,” Goldberg maintains. “We should stretch ourselves beyond our borders. You may know your neighborhood, but what lurks beyond the familiar, safe streets?”

For memoir writers, there’s not much choice here. Mostly, when it comes to the writing-what-you-know rule, you’ll want to “follow it.” I do encourage you to do some fact-checking, research your ancestry and ask a lot of questions to people close to you in order to confirm your memories. Still, when you’re documenting your own impressions of your life, by definition you’re writing what you know.

Check back next time for rule #2!

Memoir Structure Help Is Online This Month

Memoir Structure Help Is Online This Month
If you’re stuck and can’t organize your memoir or develop a cohesive structure that fits for your particular life story, you might want to take an October 25 teleseminar offered by the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW). You are required to join NAMW at the regular annual fee of $149 in order to participate in the seminar, called “Are You Struggling with Your Memoir Structure?” (Write My Memoirs is not associated in any way with NAMW.) The seminar is conducted by Judy L. Mandel, author of Replacement Child—A Memoir.
Whether you take the seminar or not, within the course description are hints about what to think about as you begin writing:
How to look objectively at your story structure
Deciding what to leave in and what to leave out of your book
What is your memoir ABOUT?
The seminar aims to provide participants with “clearer ideas about how to think about your memoir structure and learn how to make decisions about the structure that can work for your story.”
You can do a lot of this on your own. You don’t need a theme to your memoir, but it helps to have a direction and a purpose. What will be your memoir’s “takeaway”? That is, what do you want readers to conclude about you, learn from your experiences or view you perhaps differently from the way they thought of you before reading your story? What order do you want them to read about your life? Addressing these questions before you start can make it easier for you to create your chapters and include all the relevant facts and thoughts without overwhelming the reader with extraneous information.
http://www.namw.org/2013/09/are-you-struggling-with-your-memoir-structure/

If you’re stuck and can’t organize your memoir or develop a cohesive structure that fits for your particular life story, you might want to take an October 25 teleseminar offered by the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW). You are required to join NAMW at the regular annual fee of $149 in order to participate in the seminar, called “Are You Struggling with Your Memoir Structure?” (Write My Memoirs is not associated in any way with NAMW.) The seminar is conducted by Judy L. Mandel, author of Replacement Child—A Memoir.

Whether you take the seminar or not, within the course description are hints about what to think about as you begin writing:

  • How to look objectively at your story structure
  • Deciding what to leave in and what to leave out of your book
  • What is your memoir ABOUT?

The seminar aims to provide participants with “clearer ideas about how to think about your memoir structure and learn how to make decisions about the structure that can work for your story.”

You can do a lot of this on your own. You don’t need a theme to your memoir, but it helps to have a direction and a purpose. What will be your memoir’s “takeaway”? That is, what do you want readers to conclude about you, learn from your experiences or view you perhaps differently from the way they thought of you before reading your story? In what order do you want them to read about your life? Addressing these questions before you start can make it easier for you to create your chapters and include all the relevant facts and thoughts without overwhelming the reader with extraneous information.

Favorite Memoirs: Final Installment

Favorite Memoirs: Final Installment
As this three-part series comes to a close, I think you’ll enjoy the five favorite war memoirs listed by one of our Facebook friends. We’re quoting his comments on each.
1. Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean. Probably the best memoir I’ve ever read. It has three distinct sections. In Part I, it’s the 1930s and Mr. Maclean is a secret agent assigned to the British embassy in Moscow. Chased across Soviet Central Asia by the NKVD on horseback—literally— he later was one of the few Western eyewitnesses to the 1938 Soviet show trial of Nikolai Bukharin. In Part II, it’’s WWII and Mr. Maclean joins the British Army, becoming one of the founders of the Special Air Service, a commando unit that became famous for its daring raids behind Rommel’s lines in North Africa. In Part III, Mr. Maclean is summoned back to London to meet with Churchill, who appoints him his personal representative to the Yugoslav partisan leader Josef Broz Tito and parachutes him into Croatia to help lead guerrilla operations against the Nazis. (After the war, Mr. Maclean—who was one of only two men in the British Army to rise from the rank of private to brigadier general during the war—served as a member of Parliament representing the constituency of Bute and North Ayrshire, in southwest Scotland, on the Firth of Clyde. He also ran an inn, I believe.) You will not be able to put this book down.
2. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by E.B. Sledge. A sergeant in the 5th Marines during WWII, Mr. Sledge later became a biology professor at the University of Montevallo, in Alabama. He wrote his memoir to explain his wartime experiences to his family. His wife eventually persuaded him to publish it (in the early 1980s, I believe), whereupon it was discovered and championed by the late military historian John Keegan, who called it one of the greatest combat memoirs ever written. I agree.
3. Quartered Safe Out Here, by George MacDonald Fraser. At 17, the author, who later became famous for a ribald and brilliant series of novels known collectively as The Flashman Papers, enlisted in the British Army’s Border Regiment and was promptly sent off to Burma to kill Japanese. The title, incidentally, comes from the opening lines of Kipling’s Gunga Din: “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer / When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere, / An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it; / But if it comes to slaughter / You will do your work on water, / An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.”
4. Good-by to All That, by Robert Graves. Before he wrote I, Claudius, Mr. Graves was a British infantry officer in the trenches of the Western Front during the Great War. A real horror show rendered with ineluctable poignancy.
5. Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945, by Leo Marks. During WWII, Mr. Marks was head of communications for the Special Operations Executive, Churchill’s pet spy agency, where he revolutionized cryptography. Because of secrecy laws, Mr. Marks wasn’t able to tell his story—which is replete with tales of derring-do—until 1998. After the war, incidentally, Mr. Marks became a successful screenwriter and, oddly enough, played the voice of Satan in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

As this three-part Write My Memoirs series comes to a close, I think you’ll enjoy the five favorite war memoirs listed by one of our Facebook friends. We’re quoting his comments on each.

  1. Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean. Probably the best memoir I’ve ever read. It has three distinct sections. In Part I, it’s the 1930s and Mr. Maclean is a secret agent assigned to the British embassy in Moscow. Chased across Soviet Central Asia by the NKVD on horseback—literally— he later was one of the few Western eyewitnesses to the 1938 Soviet show trial of Nikolai Bukharin. In Part II, it’’s WWII and Mr. Maclean joins the British Army, becoming one of the founders of the Special Air Service, a commando unit that became famous for its daring raids behind Rommel’s lines in North Africa. In Part III, Mr. Maclean is summoned back to London to meet with Churchill, who appoints him his personal representative to the Yugoslav partisan leader Josef Broz Tito and parachutes him into Croatia to help lead guerrilla operations against the Nazis. (After the war, Mr. Maclean—who was one of only two men in the British Army to rise from the rank of private to brigadier general during the war—served as a member of Parliament representing the constituency of Bute and North Ayrshire, in southwest Scotland, on the Firth of Clyde. He also ran an inn, I believe.) You will not be able to put this book down.
  2. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by E.B. Sledge. A sergeant in the 5th Marines during WWII, Mr. Sledge later became a biology professor at the University of Montevallo, in Alabama. He wrote his memoir to explain his wartime experiences to his family. His wife eventually persuaded him to publish it (in the early 1980s, I believe), whereupon it was discovered and championed by the late military historian John Keegan, who called it one of the greatest combat memoirs ever written. I agree.
  3. Quartered Safe Out Here, by George MacDonald Fraser. At 17, the author, who later became famous for a ribald and brilliant series of novels known collectively as The Flashman Papers, enlisted in the British Army’s Border Regiment and was promptly sent off to Burma to kill Japanese. The title, incidentally, comes from the opening lines of Kipling’s Gunga Din: “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer / When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere, / An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it; / But if it comes to slaughter / You will do your work on water, / An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.”
  4. Good-by to All That, by Robert Graves. Before he wrote I, Claudius, Mr. Graves was a British infantry officer in the trenches of the Western Front during the Great War. A real horror show rendered with ineluctable poignancy.
  5. Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945, by Leo Marks. During WWII, Mr. Marks was head of communications for the Special Operations Executive, Churchill’s pet spy agency, where he revolutionized cryptography. Because of secrecy laws, Mr. Marks wasn’t able to tell his story—which is replete with tales of derring-do—until 1998. After the war, incidentally, Mr. Marks became a successful screenwriter and, oddly enough, played the voice of Satan in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

Continued: The List of Favorite Memoirs

Continued: The List of Favorite Memoirs
In the last post, we began compiling a list of our Facebook friends’ favorite memoirs so you’ll all have some “reference material” for writing your own memoirs. Here’s the next batch, along with the posters’ comments. Like Write My Memoirs on Facebook and give us some of your recommendations!
How To Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce. Comedy and tragedy intricately intertwined.
Try Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles. Lighter (though it deals with some hard issues) with a healthy dose of humor and self-deprecation. It is refreshingly honest.
Similarly: Stephen Fry’s autobiography volumes Moab is my Washpot and The Fry Chronicles are worth reading, as he is such a splendid writer.
Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids.
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. An honest street smart chef makes good.
The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer. Fun one.
Marilyn Freund Try this; I think you might like it a lot—In the Land of the Grasshopper Song: Two Women in the Klamath River Indian Country by Mary Ellicott Arnold and Mabel Reed.
If you want to read something tacky but quite riveting, read I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres and Dave Navarro. I really enjoyed it!
What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes.
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.
Geoffrey Wellum’s First Light, an account of his life as a WWII Spitfire pilot, was absolutely absorbing.
Two Holocaust autobiographies: 1) The Lost Cellos of Lev Aronson by Frances Brent. It’s a Holocaust tale of music, struggle, ingenuity and survival, and it’s also a love story. 2) An Englishman in Auschwitz by Leon Greenman.
Still more to come next week!

In the last post, we began compiling a list of our Facebook friends’ favorite memoirs so you’ll all have some “reference material” for writing your own memoirs. Here’s the next batch, along with the posters’ comments. Like Write My Memoirs on Facebook and give us some of your recommendations!

  • How To Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce. Comedy and tragedy intricately intertwined.
  • Try Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles. Lighter (though it deals with some hard issues) with a healthy dose of humor and self-deprecation. It is refreshingly honest. Similarly: Stephen Fry’s autobiography volumes Moab is my Washpot and The Fry Chronicles are worth reading, as he is such a splendid writer.
  • Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids.
  • Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. An honest street-smart chef makes good.
  • The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer. Fun one.
  • Try this; I think you might like it a lot—In the Land of the Grasshopper Song: Two Women in the Klamath River Indian Country by Mary Ellicott Arnold and Mabel Reed.
  • If you want to read something tacky but quite riveting, read I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres and Dave Navarro. I really enjoyed it!
  • What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes.
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.
  • Geoffrey Wellum’s First Light, an account of his life as a WWII Spitfire pilot, was absolutely absorbing.
  • An Englishman in Auschwitz by Leon Greenman.

Still more to come next week!