Book Review: Women Writing on Family

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Interest in genealogy, family history, and memoir* is so intense these days it’s about time a book to guide writers working in these genres became available.

Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing, an anthology edited by Carol Smallwood and Suzann Holland, is that book. Smallwood says she was led to compile the collection when a novel she was working on raised questions concerning writing about her relatives.

“How much to tell, how much to leave out?” she wondered.

When no books came to her aid, she decided to collect essays by published women who were also experienced in writing about families. Why did she choose all women? She recalled Virginia Woolf’s observation: “We think back through our mothers if we are women.”

With eight sections (including one on “Writing Exercises and Strategies”) and 55 essays, Women Writing on Family can help women writing about family stay out of court on charges of libel from irate relatives; carve out writing time from frantic schedules; approach editors in the hopes of getting published; and promote their work—whether self- or traditionally-published—to the public.

In the opening essay, “Family Secrets: How to Reveal What Matters Without Getting Sued or Shunned,” Martha Engber takes writers on a tour of their—and others’—First Amendment rights, and offers tips on protecting yourself and those you write about.

Lela Davidson’s “Laundry, Life, and Writing: Making the Most of Short Sessions and Stolen Moments” (Don’t you love that title?) shows writers how they can make brief bursts of writing productive.

As a writing instructor, I tell my memoir-writing students not to bother writing paeans to their perfect childhoods. I won’t believe them and neither will anyone else. In her no-holds-barred essay, “How to Write a Childhood Memoir,” Catherine Gildiner lists the unpleasant memories writers should be willing to excavate from their own pasts, warning that writing a memoir “takes nerves of steel.”

If you’re ready to propel your story out into the world, take a look at “Identifying Potential Markets for Family Writing,” by Rebecca Tolley-Stokes, “Locating Markets for Writing About Family,” by Colleen Kappeler, and “A Writer’s Thoughts on Book Marketing,” by Ann McCauley. All three contain a host of valuable ideas for sharing your writing with larger audiences than your family.

*According to Booklist, the number of memoirs alone published over the last four years increased 400%.

If you’re up to exploring more hard-hitting memoir topics, see Supercharge Your Life Story with These Ideas.

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Women Writing on Family

  1. What a great resource! Thanks, Lynette, for tracking down these great finds. That increase in published memoirs — up 400% in four years!!!!Yikes. Well, it was a different world just a few years ago and now publishing has opened up to those who wouldn’t or couldn’t publish before. Back to writing!

  2. Lynette–would you be interested in a complimentary copy to give away to readers? I’d be happy to send you one.

  3. Writing about family can be painful, joyful, illuminating and oh so freeing. But what to do when you have written something that so resonates with who you have become and where you have been, but you wouldn’t dare put it out in the world because it is about the darker side of growing up in a family. The dysfunctional side. The I can’t believe I made it this far with humor intact side. What do you do when your writing effects others you love, or perhaps don’t love so much but still have to have in your life? What then? I can’t wait to read Carol and Suzann’s book. Thanks for bringing it to light!

  4. What a timely anthology! Very few book of this type have writing exercises, so important to uncovering memories. I’ve got so much on my reading list right now, but this sounds like a book to make time for Thanks, Lynette.

  5. Debra: What I like about anthologies like this one is that you can dip into them, read a single essay, apply it to your own writing, and be on your way. They’re perfect for those of us with too many books on the floor by the bed, waiting their turn to be read.

    Thanks for leaving your comment. I’ve entered you in the random drawing for the book.

  6. Lynnette, thanks for such a thoughtful review of what sounds like a wonderful collection of essays! I love anthologies for the very reason you mentioned in your comment back to Debra. I think I’ll be looking for this one soon!

  7. Pingback: Writing Memoir or Family History? Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

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