Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “The Memoir Project” by Marion Roach Smith

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You may never want to write a memoir, but if you do, here’s your go-to reference: The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith. On second thought: Who doesn’t want to write a memoir?

I love a good memoir. Love reading them. Love writing them. Let me know when yours is available for purchase.

Key Takeaways

  • The special quality of a memoir is that they can examine the small moments of life and find extraordinary meaning in them.
  • Tell the truth. You can know if you are doing so because when you do, you will have a genuine emotional reaction to your words.
  • Know your story’s main argument–its point–and break that down into small sections, so that each is fully demonstrated and supported in the text. “Let’s say your one sentence—your argument (and all books are an argument, no matter how small)—is that life is really hard unless you get a good cat to live with. Great. Here’s how that will break down. By each phrase: Life. Is hard. Really hard. Unless. You get. A good cat. To live with.”
  • Don’t overexplain your point. “What Ernest Hemingway taught us in the last century still gives good weight: What you leave out of the story is perhaps more important than what you put in.”
  • Don’t be flowery, or ornate, or too precious, or too beautiful on purpose. Don’t overwrite! Quoting Elmore Leonard, the author writes, “If I come across anything in my work that smacks of ‘good writing,’ I immediately strike it out.”
  • “Print out your draft and write in the margin what each paragraph does. This is called indexing.” After indexing, note whether or not each section of your work has achieved every goal you have for it.
  • Edit relentlessly. Be exceedingly cautious in this endeavor; take it seriously. “Pencil in hand, touch each word in every sentence, make hard decisions. Is there a shorter way to say this? A cleaner, more precise way? Each phrase needs to be assessed and judged.”
  • Good stories are often very simple ones. ” … While I’ve heard a bazillion pitches over the years, the one I keep always in mind when I write and edit is simply ‘I left.’ Perhaps you left a way of thinking, a husband, or a habit. Perhaps you left one house and moved into another, and in doing so upped the ante on anything from your decorating to the drama in your life … We are fascinated by how people change and need little more than the moment of intuition to the moment of exit to keep our interest.”

About the Author

Marion Roach Smith is an American author, journalist, and writing instructor known for her expertise in memoir writing. With a background in journalism, she has written for publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Newsday.

Roach Smith is the author of several books, including “The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life” and “The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning, and Sexual Power of Red Hair.” In “The Memoir Project,” she offers practical advice and exercises to help aspiring writers craft compelling memoirs. Roach Smith emphasizes the importance of finding unique and personal stories, honing writing skills, and capturing readers’ attention through authenticity and emotional resonance.

Beyond her books, Roach Smith has taught memoir writing workshops and seminars, sharing her expertise and guiding aspiring writers in capturing their life experiences on the page. Her teaching approach focuses on helping individuals discover their own stories and find their authentic voice in memoir writing.

Roach Smith is known for her engaging and accessible style, combining personal anecdotes, writing techniques, and a passion for storytelling. She encourages writers to explore their memories, embrace vulnerability, and uncover the universal truths within their own lived experiences.

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, Marion Roach Smith continues to be active in the field of memoir writing and teaching. For the most up-to-date information on her work and offerings, I recommend referring to reliable sources or her official website.


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