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Guide Lives Other Than My Own: A Memoir

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All good writing, of any kind, must be fearless.

Lives Other Than My Own: A Memoir by Emmanuel Carrère

But memoir writing requires a special quality of fearlessness. You have to reach the point of being completely ready to let the world inside your mind and soul, to expose your fears and vulnerabilities, and be prepared for the consequences. Each time I made an attempt to write with a degree of caution, I discovered new ways of throwing all caution out the window, because it literally blocked and sabotaged me. The best and probably only way to write fearlessly is to become fiercely loyal to your book, not the people in it.

How to write a memoir

Write a good book: nothing else matters. Your memoir may not please everyone in it, but you are writing for readers, not your characters. And if you succeed, even your characters will become your readers and see their story through your literary eyes. It is tempting to write a memoir with yourself as its hero and most interesting part. It is, after all, about you, and written from your personal point of view. But the surprising thing I discovered is that the memoir writer is actually a character actor rather than the star of the book.

Not a permanent one: You need to know when to slip it on and off, when to stay in the background and when to accept occasionally endure the full, bright spotlight. Memoir writing is a very intimate process. It is tempting to share both the excitement and difficulty of the experience with friends, family, or other writers.

Famous Memoir Examples to Emulate

I seriously believe that this is a mistake. A conversation about your memoir quickly becomes a chat about your life. It may be interesting, but talking is not writing. The memoir can only find its true form as it is actually written and rewritten.

Writing Tips: How To Write A Memoir About A Difficult Subject

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my first draft was to write without any regard for the chronological sequence of the events. I wanted to feel free, and it seemed to me that I could achieve the greatest level of literary freedom by focusing on themes rather than timeframes.


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The result was an unintelligible mess, a narrative as confusing as it was playful. Even the best writing loses its power with such a poor structure. My editor insisted on my organizing it chronologically, and as soon as I did, everything fell into place: my complicated story or stories about language, identity, family, history could suddenly be told in clear steps. In fact, it was the chronology that gave me the freedom to occasionally touch on topics that were elsewhere in time.

If your readers know where they are in the overall arc of your narrative, they can also accept and enjoy your freedom to digress. Whatever reason propelled you to write a memoir, it will not be sufficient once you begin to carefully gather your thoughts. There will be a sudden influx from various sources of ideas, memories, stories, photographs, letters, and impressions.

And every single one of them will feel important, essential, interesting. They are not. After wallowing in their extremely enjoyable richness for some time, find and apply a filter to select only those that really work as part of the book you are actually writing. Define your book, know what you want it to be, and only then reach for the material that will help to form its narrative.

If your memoir requires any amount of research, you are entering a potential minefield. These authors wrote as a way to record and publish their own account of their public exploits.

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Is Memoir the New Self-help?

Authors included politicians or people in court society and were later joined by military leaders and businessmen. An exception to these models is Henry David Thoreau 's memoir Walden , which presents his experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond.

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Memoirs documenting incarceration by Nazi Germany during the war include Primo Levi 's If This Is a Man , which covers his arrest as a member of the Italian Resistance Movement , followed by his life as a prisoner in Auschwitz ; and Elie Wiesel 's Night , which is based on his life prior to and during his time in the Auschwitz, Buna Werke , and Buchenwald concentration camps.

At the same time, psychology and other research began to show that familiarity with genealogy helps people find their place in the world and that life review helps people come to terms with their own past.

What do you need to see in a new memoir submission?

With the advent of inexpensive digital book production in the first decade of the 21st century, [7] the genre exploded. Memoirs written as a way to pass down a personal legacy, rather than as a literary work of art or historical document, are emerging as a personal and family responsibility.

The Association of Personal Historians was a trade association for professionals who assisted individuals, families, and organizations in documenting their life stories. With the expressed interest of preserving history through the eyes of those who lived it, some organizations work with potential memoirists to bring their work to fruition. The Veterans History Project , for example, compiles the memoirs of those who have served in a branch of the United States Armed Forces — especially those who have seen active combat.

The term 'memoir' has been used in an academic context to describe an essay on a learned subject. Examples include explanatory texts accompanying geologic maps. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Type of autobiographical or biographical writing. For other uses, see Memoir disambiguation. July 5, Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Cambridge University Press, pp. Retrieved The Phoenix.