Talking Memoir with Writing Instructor, Coach, and Publisher Brooke Warner, Part 1

As a memoir writer, as well as a memoir coach myself, I’ve followed Brooke Warner’s work on behalf of memoir and memoir writers for years. It’s a pleasure to welcome her here so you can learn more about her varied work, including publishing.
– Lynette

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

You’re a writing instructor, coach, and publisher. Can you distinguish among those roles?
BW: I teach memoir classes mostly, and sometimes classes on publishing, either online or in-person. As a coach I work with authors one-on-one, both on their writing and the emotional challenges that go along with writing. I’m a teacher, editor, champion, and midwife.

As publisher of She Writes Press, I’m more of a book shepherd than a coach. I still champion our authors, but my role is more directive, because I’m helping them with their books’ covers and positioning. I sometimes feel like more of a bossy older sister than a mother hen in this role.

You have experience in traditional publishing; you’ve been a speaker at writing and publishing conferences, and have expertise particularly in memoir, but also in other genres. What do you tell audiences about publishing?

I tell them that it’s really hard to get a traditional publishing deal these days. I hope I paint a mostly optimistic picture, however, because opportunities abound in the current publishing climate. But the book publishing world looks a lot different than it did even 15 years ago.

I educate aspiring authors about their options and what the different publishing paths might look like. I try to give them a dose of reality without squashing their dreams, because I’m strongly invested in the dream of authorship. I just believe that some authors need to reframe how that’s going to happen.

Please tell us about SheWrites.com and She Writes Press. What is the connection between them?

SheWrites.com is an online community for women writers worldwide. On the site, writers can connect with one another, post articles, and join groups. SheWrites.com was around for a few years before I contacted the cofounder, Kamy Wicoff, about starting She Writes Press. We built the press to complement the online platform. Authors don’t need to be a member of SheWrites.com to publish with us, but the two companies are inextricably linked in terms of their brand and their messaging—which is that they both exist as platforms for women’s voices.

This year’s theme for your collaboration with Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers, seems to be the Magic of Memoir. You’ve sponsored an essay contest, there’s the conference of the same name this month (October, 2016); and you’ve got the Magic of Memoir Anthology coming out in November. How do they fit together?

The contest was for The Magic of Memoir anthology, so those are one and the same. We did an open call for submissions for the anthology, for which you took home first place, Lynette. Congratulations!

Our second annual Magic of Memoir Conference, which took place October 15 – 16, in Oakland, California, makes Magic of Memoir more than a theme for this year. We’re making Magic of Memoir part of our brand.

We have a class called Write Your Memoir in Six Months, but we want to do a lot more around memoir than just our six-month course. The Magic of Memoir conference and website and book are allowing us to move into some more exciting content and ideas beyond our six-month course.

Please describe the Write Your Memoir in Six Months course.

This is our six-month online memoir intensive, which we run twice a year, with one class starting in January and one in June. (The next one begins in January 2017.) It’s blossomed into a lot more than just our six-month course.

Notably we also teach a Best-selling Memoir course each spring and summer. We’ve taught Wild, by Cheryl Strayed; Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert; Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt; The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr; and others. These short courses give writers an opportunity to learn what makes these memoirs work. They’re really fun.

Finally, we’ve been teaching a Mastering Memoir course once a year, which is a ten-week online course that’s faster-paced than Write Your Memoir in Six Months and exclusively focused on craft. The next one is starting in February 2017. So we feel that Write Your Memoir Six Months is the foundation for lots of other work we’re doing in memoir.

Note from Lynette:
Be sure you don’t miss Part 2 of this informative interview for all writers interested in starting, improving, or publishing their manuscripts.

See the list of authors who will be included in the Magic of Memoir anthology, which is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. The anthology will also feature interviews with best selling memoirists. Find out who they are here.
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Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, How to Sell Your Memoir, co-author of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir, and co-editor of The Magic of Memoir Anthology. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com. Brooke lives and works in Berkeley, California.

Visit Brooke at www.brookewarner.com

Connect with Brooke on Social Media:
http://twitter.com/brooke_warner
http://facebook.com/warnercoaching
https://www.linkedin.com/in/warnercoaching
https://www.pinterest.com/warnercoaching
https://www.youtube.com/warnercoaching

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I’m 1st Place Winner of the Magic of Memoir Essay Contest!

Sure, I’m grinning all over myself.

My essay, “No More Secrets and Silence,” was awarded 1st place in the Magic of Memoir Essay Contest, chosen from 185 submissions. My prize is $400, which has already arrived. And the essay will also be included in the forthcoming Magic of Memoir Anthology. That’s expected out in November 2016.

Here are the names of all the memoirists whose essays will appear in the anthology. You can also scroll down to see the bestselling memoirists whose interviews appear in the book.

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the collection (you can pre-order it now, as I have) and enjoy the essays written by all the memoirists included in it. We share the approaches we took to writing our memoirs, including obstacles we encountered and overcame—and we offer solutions that can help you in your writing, as well.

Please spread the word about the upcoming Magic of Memoir Anthology!

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In Need of a Neat Conclusion?

PINK SWEATER
An editor remarked that after sticking with a memoir for 300 pages, he felt he was owed a tidy resolution at the end. I understand his feelings. I even sympathize with them.

But I don’t agree.

Do readers earn the right to a snug, reassuring wrap up to a memoir? Must the narrative of a segment of a life (which is what a memoir is) unfailingly end neatly? And even if it seems to, neither we, nor the narrator, can know for example, if the recovering addict falls off the wagon the very day we sigh with satisfaction over the end of an addiction memoir.

Regarding novels, British author Lee Rourke quotes Viktor Shklovsky, who said [a novel] has no ending . . . “because finishing a novel would mean knowing the future.”

I’m not doctrinaire about endings. I’ve always reserved the right to attach my own preferred ending to narrative works of art. (In my mind, Bambi’s mother is alive and thriving. So is the extraordinary Sean Connery’s flamboyant character in The Untouchables. Oh, he gets all shot up while an operatic aria soars through his apartment; but he’s patched up sufficiently to happily join in the slick scene on the train station steps. He might even kick the guy in the white suit over the parapet, after Ness shoots that villain at the very end.)

Now, that’s a resolution.

But wait . . .
Memoir’s different. Neither the reader nor the writer is allowed to make up the ending. Memoir’s current conventions demand that there must be issues/questions/conundrums and they must, absolutely must, be resolved. The unknown must become known, the unfathomable miraculously fathomed. That probably explains why, on concluding of a couple of memoirs, I’ve felt the ending was forced, and even false.

Dulcinea Norton Smith holds that readers want memoir threads “finished off neatly.” Well, I want the events in my life to finish off neatly. But that’s not how it goes, and memoirists can’t just slap a satisfying ending on their manuscript, all tied up like a sizzling roast just out of Martha Stewart’s oven.

Is that even desirable?

Sometimes the protagonist’s goal hasn’t been fully achieved. The fights with the mother, say, are temporarily stilled, but no one believes for a moment that they are over for good.

Jerry Waxler suggests the author ask what conclusions can be drawn from the experiences in her less-than-perfectly-resolved story. Maybe what the writer has learned along the way will be something readers can use in their own lives.

Yet, I don’t consider it the memoirist’s job to educate readers, nor overtly teach them how to live. I feel our job is to allow readers to share our journeys as we muddle—with some success and many failures—through our lives, as they do through theirs.

When I was a technical documentation writer, my coworker and friend, Bob used to kid that we should tell our customers: “Figure it out for yourselves; we did.”

Why shouldn’t readers wrestle with ambiguities and endure dead ends as the author does? Maybe what we memoirists teach readers, if anything, is that much of the struggle in life winds up inconclusively.

Probably this is just rationalizing. If I can’t offer readers anything short of a pat ending, I’ll have to shelve the memoir I’ve spent a tough four years writing, until a certain thread is tidily knotted. But the end might never knit itself into a nice, symmetrical garment. So, I guess my question is: if the narrator is trying to gain something in a memoir, is it unfair to readers to publish the book before all is achieved? Isn’t the journey worth something?

When I put that question to friends, one said, “Life doesn’t offer tidy endings; it’s immature to expect that.” Another said she actually enjoys open-ended endings. “I like it when months later, while standing at the sink or getting into my car, I find myself pondering possible outcomes of the story.”

Was I ever glad to hear that, because just last week it seemed certain that the end of my story, and therefore my memoir, had arrived, the treasure achieved. But then I learned that no, it hadn’t quite yet.

Again, speaking about fiction, Lee Rourke wrote that he is uncomfortable with the desire for narratives to reach closure. He distrusts books that force “chaos towards order and natural events to act unnaturally.” I feel that applies to memoir as well.

Mine was a search for more than just a material object. It was a quest to come to grips with my family’s destructive dynamics, which cascaded from generation to generation. So, I want to say to readers: “Maybe some of the tangible item is still missing, but Baby, this is still a damn good story.”

What do you think? Should I wait until all has been gained before publishing my memoir?

Further Reading
How to End a Memoir

Memoir Lessons: Buddies, Endings, and Beyond

Endless Fascination: In Praise of Novels Without Neat Conclusions

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When the Editor Is Edited

It’s Done . . . Isn’t It?
Anyone who listened to my laments during my years of searching for my mother’s money, then supported me while I moaned my way through writing about the experience, knows how agonizing I considered the process of putting it down on paper.

I’m glad my writing of My Mother’s Money is over. I couldn’t stomach the prospect of looking at the old diaries and the purple folders threatening to topple off the hip high file cabinets in my study; or the successive electronic drafts going back to 2008; or the reams of handwritten notes and exhortations on bright pink legal-size paper wedged under the printer that sits between two windows I stared through at the spruce tree that’s practically within touching distance. While working on the book, I often wanted to swing out of my second floor windows into that tree for shelter and sustenance.

Done and Done
In June, 2012, I was done.

But only for the time being…

Since I’m a creative writing instructor and an editor myself, I knew “done” wasn’t the accurate word for my manuscript. It was simply done for the time being. I didn’t doubt it was a riveting story. But I knew some sections were flawed, and I’d run out of the necessary steam to continue tweaking them. The manuscript had become a mish-mash in my mind.

I could already hear the feedback that would be coming:
“This chapter would work better if it came before that one.”
“There’s too much backstory here; sprinkle it throughout the manuscript.”
And, one I’d already heard that I adamantly disagreed with: “You can’t start a memoir the way you’ve started yours.”

So imagine my delight when my friends and my husband’s family actually clamored for more chapters after they read the opening ones. Or my joy when my writer friend told me, “Truly, truly, the only problem I have with your memoir is how fascinating it is. The writing is silken and balanced.”

But It’s Got Its Flaws . . .
So I put out a call to my Twitter friends and my fellow serious scribblers in Chicks Who Write, and names of editors started coming in.

I spent weeks interviewing editors and talking to their clients. Besides wanting someone experienced in editing memoir, I want someone simpatico—not with me, but with the circumstances of my story. I edit my own writing clients best when their stories resonate with me. I don’t have to have experienced the exact situations myself (in most cases—like the murder mystery I just edited—I wouldn’t want to!), but I’ve been fortunate that each of the client manuscripts I’ve edited spoke to me personally.

That’s what I looked for in an editor—someone with the obvious technical skills, but also someone who could feel my story, and show me how to make all the elements fall gracefully, seamlessly, meaningfully. I finally found one.

I’ve gotten the edits back. They’ve been sitting on a file cabinet in my study, waiting while I finished a second memoir. I’ll be ready to look at the comments by the end of this week. I just hope my editor had as light a touch with my work as I try to apply when I edit my clients’ work.

I’ll let you know.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like:

After the First Draft is Done

A Mess Before A Masterpiece

When You Hate the Book You’re Writing: Intro (Especially for memoirists)

When You Hate the Book You’re Writing: My Solution (Especially for memoirists)

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Would You Let This Man Edit Your Book?

That’s me, before I started worrying about this.

I was terribly disappointed in the first editor I shared the opening chapters of my memoir manuscript with. Her specialty was fiction, but that was okay. Memoirs are written and sold like novels these days.

It was her financial arrangements that grated. When I contacted her, she gave me a reasonable estimate of several hundred dollars for 4 hours of her editing time. I sent her the ms. of My Mother’s Money—and the full amount of her estimate.

The Money Got Funny
She then sent me her edits, which took her half the time of her estimate. I wrote her with my thanks, and asking to return the balance of my money.

It still astonishes me that she said, in essence, “Oh, no. We work together until your money is used up.” But, her edits had been sufficient; there was no reason for us to continue working together.

I’m a professional editor, and I charge only for the amount of time I work on a project. If I quote 4 hours and the job takes me only 2 hours, I charge for 2 hours. It’s not the client’s fault that I overestimated the job.

So my experience with that editor left a sour taste.

Friendly Reviews
When I was struggling with the organization of the manuscript, an accomplished writer friend, who also teaches nonfiction writing, offered to give me tips on structure. During her reading of the manuscript and afterwards, she praised it fulsomely. “Gorgeous writing.” “Magical.” She said she was “savoring” it and “riveted.”

I kept wondering if she’d read the right book.

Who I Really Need to Edit My Book
She also said something I’ve known all along—I need a reader who doesn’t know me.

And I know just who I want that reader cum editor to be.

He’s a well known publishing industry insider, who consults with writers on a freelance basis. His author list makes my eyes tear up—big names with a literary bent. He’s midwifed famous books—New York Times bestsellers.

So, why don’t I engage him without all this hand wringing? He’s expensive, but I’ve got enough dough in my writing account to cover his bill.

It’s just that . . . I think he delivers his edits verbally. Writing as fast as I could, even Skyping and taping his pearls of advice, I’d never get them all down. And I’d be doomed to listen to the tapes over and over, while I hunted for his comment on page 264, paragraph 3, line 5 of my ms.

As a writer, I absorb information best when it’s written, not spoken. To be altogether honest, I’m unclear about his methods. His web site says he gives “tracked changes” edits. But would this require an additional fee?

On the other hand, if he felt my manuscript had potential, he’d have the connections to help me find an agent.

I’ve continued interviewing other memoir editors. The whole process is making me antsy. I’ve decided to make a decision by January 3. I’ve gotta get the ms off my desk and into an expert’s hands.

So tell me: What would you do? Would you let this man edit your book?

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After the First Draft is Done

I can hardly believe it. The first full draft of my memoir, My Mother’s Money, is done. Done. Every item of information that needed to go into it is down on paper. But right now, it’s mostly just information. Facts. Data. Dates. Only four or five chapters of solid narrative.

I won’t minimize it, though. Getting all that written was a huge challenge. It took two years. Maybe more, if you count the 10 years of note taking, fact checking, and organizing that writing the draft required.

Now the writing begins in earnest. It’s the shape and how to tell the story that are the most intimidating.

I’ve gorged on too many recently written books and blogs about memoir that urge writers to construct their memoirs to read like novels. I bought into that idea for a long time. My Mother’s Money even lends itself to a novelistic structure.

But the memoirs I like best don’t necessarily read like novels. So, I’ve been thinking about what appeals to me in memoirs:

Descriptions of how things were. What was the narrator sunk in? A place, a job, a family, a time, a tug-of-war?

Stunning surprises—a relationship unexpectedly collapses, or the least likely person flees—upsetting the (often fragile) status quo. (In one of her memoirs, Diana Athill opens with a description a charming novelist who came to a dinner party at her house. She took to him immediately, knowing he’d become a dear friend. That section, which is almost merry, ends, “Five years later this man killed himself in my flat.” How’s that for a boldly stated surprise?)

A thinking narrator, who isn’t averse to wandering off on tangents as he tries to see and comprehend connections. (Above my desk is a quote from someone, urging writers to “approach their subject for its mystery—as an investigator examining the unfathomable.”)

Sympathy or envy for the narrator’s plight or good fortune.

New knowledge about a lifestyle, religion, era, problem—a sort of “Oh, so that’s how stockbrokers are, work, live, think, affect our lives.”

Admiration for the narrator’s courage, as she worries a problem, even if those around her think she should just leave it alone.

Having my own ideas about how to write my memoir won’t make it any easier, but it’ll make it more authentic. And if a memoir is nothing else, it should be that.

What do you like in memoirs?

Find out more about My Mother’s Money: A Memoir of Suspense.

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When You Hate the Book You’re Writing: My Solution

Lynette, in mother-in-law's garden

So, there I was a couple of weeks ago, proudly flipping through the completed first chapters of my memoir, My Mother’s Money.

I had the hook, followed by a gripping scene to introduce the story’s first complication. Then I plunged readers (and the main characters) into a big surprise. Chapter 4 shed light on how the whole conundrum probably originated in the first place. Nice.

Now it was time to stop the artistry and get down to plain old storytelling. I needed to describe the search my siblings and I would have to undertake to find the money our mother left us when she died without a will, nor even telling us an inheritance existed. And for that, I needed a chronological plot.

Of course, I couldn’t remember every conversation and action involved in the search—the roles various people played, our behavior, failures, and frustrations. I would have to draft a timeline, constructed from emails, letters, and the notes and journal entries I had made.

But reviewing and summarizing the contents of just the emails was so upsetting that I couldn’t work with them for more than a few minutes at a time—until I came up with a strategy:

My Solution

I pretend I’m an amanuensis—a secretary—just writing up notes about other peoples’ lives.

It’s good I hit on this approach, because now I’m inserting into the timeline information from journals and the notes I took while my mother was dying, and the only way I can do this is to distance myself from them.

It’s still not easy. In fact, it’s pretty depressing. But I’m detached enough most of the time to persevere. I think the story needs to be told (besides entertaining readers, it might serve as a warning), and no one else is going to do it.

To protect myself enough to get this book written, I need detachment. As Heather Sellers, author of Chapter After ChapterPage After Page; and the memoir, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, says in an insightful interview about memoir writing, “You have to be completely in it and completely out of it, both at once.”

More Resources

If you found this post helpful, you might like Why I Write About My Painful Past, by Darah Zeledon, The Warrrior Mom.

Also see When You Hate the Book You’re Writing, Part 1, and agent Rachel Gardner’s post, I Hate My Book!

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Judi Coltman: When You Hate the Book You’re Writing

It’s not uncommon for writers to experience intermittent loathing for the books they’re writing.

I hate the one I’m working on because it forces me to recall unpleasant details of my search my mother’s money—and it shines a spotlight on previously unknown tensions in my small immediate family.

However, writer Judi Coltman, author of Is It Just Me? or Is Everyone a Little Nuts?, is unhappy with her published book in a completely different way. Here’s what she says about it.

“I don’t hate my book itself. I only hate it because, being my first book, I chose a genre that is easy for me. I have always been known as a humor writer. My blog is a humor blog; it’s pretty much who I am. But, the truth is, I write in many genres. I just haven’t published a book in any other genre.

“Everyone expects another humor book. I now understand actors who fear type casting! But I have moved on to a a project that is more about writing than about making fun of myself. It’s in a much more challenging genre. Now that I am working on a murder mystery, I find myself struggling with the voice, my readers, and the whole concept. I second guess myself, asking, “Am I making a mistake?” And I get to a point where I wonder if I should scrap my mystery and write more humor.”

Judi’s book, Is It Just Me? or Is Everyone a Little Nuts? is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and on Kindle.

Read more from Judi at her delightfully honest blog, My Life in a Nutshell. Follow her on Twitter @JudiColtman.

If you can hardly stand the sight of your manuscript these days, you might be interested in When You Hate the Book You’re Writing, Part 1.

To read about another writer who’s hating her book, please see also “When You Hate the Book You’re Writing, Part 3.” She’s got strategies to help her keep working on her manuscript. And I promise to share the ones I use to make myself continue writing My Mother’s Money.

Please leave a comment if you hate the book you’re writing.

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When You Hate the Book You’re Writing, Series Introduction

It’s riveting. It’s exciting. If I wanted to, I probably could make it read like a thriller. Yet, here’s a conversation I have at least once a week.

A friend says, “How’s your memoir coming along?”

“Which one?” I ask, hoping this friend is asking about the other one, the one I’m writing that I don’t hate. But it’s seldom that one.

“The one about your hidden inheritance.”

“My Mother’s Money?” I ask in a tone designed to discourage further probing.

“Yeah.”

“I hate it.”

“Why? I can’t wait to read what comes next. It’s very suspenseful.”

“Well, yes. It’s a good story. But I hate writing it,” I reply.

“But, why?”

Why, indeed.

It’s probably a persistent peril of memoir writing—the fact that you, the writer, already know the (sordid) story, and how it turns out. You’ve lived it. And it’s strangely both upsetting and boring to relive it through your work.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I hate the memoir I’m writing, I got more immediate responses than for anything else I’ve ever tweeted. One published writer even said hating her story is one of the reasons she won’t write her memoir.

It’s seems that disgust with the manuscript-in-progress is a predictable phase (along with doubt) we must endure in the course of writing. (Afterward, along comes profound embarrassment at the book’s flaws, no matter how much acclaim it garners.)

But, this is different. This isn’t a question of quality. This is trial by memory—more like, “How many times do I have to think about this lousy, although ultimately enriching, experience?” with a little bit of “Maybe I should just tell people what happened and not write about it” thrown in.

Now I’m in the research phase of the memoir. I’m going through my journals, emails, and accordion files to remind myself of the sequence of events: When did this lawyer tell me he never got paid for work he did for my siblings and me just after our mother died? When did that lawyer call me out of the blue to offer to help us get another portion of our inheritance money—at a steep percentage for himself. I’m looking at real drudgery.

So how do I get past this ennui?

I’ve got a few strategies to kick myself beyond my bad attitude. I’ll share them in a later post on this subject. See When You Hate the Book You’re Writing, Part 2, to read what another writer says about hating her book.

If you’re hating your manuscript, whatever it is, and wherever you are in the process, please share your troubles and triumphs in the comments!

Find out more about My Mother’s Money: A Memoir of Suspense.

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Memoir or Family History? A Deeper Look at the Differences

Introduction

While sorting out the question of whether my work-in-progress, My Mother’s Money, is a memoir or a family history, I became intrigued by several thoughtful posts on Virginia Lloyd’s blog addressing this and other questions about what qualifies as memoir. So I invited her to discuss the distinction further here.

Perhaps her descriptions of these two genres that sometimes seem to overlap can help you decide if you’re engaged in writing memoir or family. Knowing the difference could be crucial to the way you tell your tale or your role as narrator or character—as well as how appealing your work might be to a publisher and the public.

– Lynette Benton

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Are You Writing a Memoir Or a Family History? 5 Tips to Help You Tell Guest Post
by Virginia Lloyd

What makes a true story about family a memoir instead of a family history? The contours of memoir, seemingly sharp for many years, are blurring. The genre’s definition is losing shape as it groans under the weight of the associations and expectations we assign it. For memoir, grey seems to be the new black and white.

I think there are as many different types of memoirs as there are authors willing to create something unique. And with the intense competition for editors’—and readers’—attention, unique is essential.

Here are some thoughts about the differences between writing a family history and writing memoir. I’d love to hear yours.

— A family history, by definition, is purely about a family.

It documents the lives and relationships of several members of one family. A memoir, however, can be about almost anything, including family members past and present, but it is not necessarily a history. No one would consider Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking a family history; yet the main characters are her immediate family members.

— A family history implies a long time period.

It covers at least three generations, let’s say, whereas the best memoirs tend to focus on a specific moment in the author’s life. Alternatively, family history could focus on a significant object, such as a family heirloom, or a house, tracked through a number of generations. Either way, the memoir author’s lens is narrow, while in family history it is wide.

— A family history is self-referential.

By this I mean that the author’s attempt to recreate the world of the family is an end in itself, exploring and illuminating the dark corners and forgotten characters from the past. Unless you come from a public family or have some extraordinary historical figure lurking in a previous generation, there is little to connect the reader to your characters.

By contrast, a good memoir is both highly personal and universal. A memoir should enlighten the reader about something larger and more complex than its author. It should attempt to illustrate aspects of human experience that have not previously been explored, or are presented in a fresh and unexpected way.

— In a family history, the author is a historian, and not necessarily a central character. In memoir, typically (but not always) the author is a central figure. The author of a family history could include information on characters who might not be relevant to a memoir written by the same author. This reflects the changing point of view from relatively external (family history) to internal (memoir). Of course, the objectivity of a family history author will always be open to debate—especially by members of the author’s family.

— A family history is less commercially viable than a memoir—unless you’re a Kennedy or have a relative who’s a serial killer.

If you’re still unsure if you’re working on a memoir or a family history, ask yourself why the family figures you’re writing about mean so much to you. What is it about your grandfather, sister, or great-aunt that refuses to go away, even when you’ve so many other things to be doing and writing about? If you can find the emotional core of your passion for the subject, then you are probably writing a memoir. You’re just not quite sure what it’s really about yet.

Virginia Lloyd is a memoir coach and the author of the memoir The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement. She blogs at www.virginialloyd.com and tweets @v11oyd.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Must-Have Memoir Writing Aids (including the additional resources in the comments under that post).

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