Your Life Is A Book: How To Craft & Publish Your Memoir by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann is my favorite book on memoir writing. Written by women in the publishing business, it’s heavy on the practicalities and light on the sappy “dig deep inside” stuff.
Read it because your life is a memoir, and you’re just waiting to see how it turns out before you write it.
- My favorite quote of the book: “Start anywhere. Because no matter where you start, you’ll end up where you’re meant to be.”
- Consider these subjects: gender, race, politics, class, culture, religion, location, food, sex. All can provide a thread for the narrative.
- Memoir must include epiphanies that you build up to after which the person’s life is changed.
- Read other memoirs. Educate yourself on the genre before taking it on yourself.
- Ask: What is the story you’re telling to yourself about yourself? Write it down in a few pages, then see if that’s your main theme.
- Write down your dreams.
- Reread your old letters.
- Your journal is not your memoir! This is important.
- Here’s a helpful writing prompt: What is one scene from your life that explains your whole life? Jot down your thoughts on this and see if that’s your story.
- Each scene has three jobs: To advance the plot, to deepen the characterization, and to engage a major theme. Don’t leave any of these three functions out.
- Don’t start with waking up or with the weather–these are the oldest cliches in the genre. Start with a unique scene, and follow it with more unique scenes.
- Bring in a sense of place and time–good settling details. Consider your settling to be another character in the book.
- Make your stories memorable. Don’t be in “no time.” Engage the senses, and ground the narrative in place. Tell what the person’s body is doing, what year is, and the like.
- Write about food! When in doubt, it’s a go-to. Describing meal details is very emotionally provocative and symbolic, as well as relatable.
- Write about a journey. Where did you start, and where are you going?
- Finally, write about moral dilemmas. These are relatable and bring up strong emotional responses in the reader.
About the Authors
Brenda Peterson is an American author, wildlife advocate, and writing teacher. She was born in Seattle, Washington, and has written numerous books, including memoirs, novels, and nature writing. Peterson’s work often explores themes of nature, animals, and the human connection to the natural world. She is known for her evocative writing style and her ability to blend personal experience with environmental and social issues.
Sarah Jane Freymann is an American literary agent and co-founder of the literary agency Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. With her extensive experience in the publishing industry, Freymann brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into the process of crafting and publishing memoirs.
In Your Life is a Book, Peterson and Freymann draw on their expertise to guide readers through the various stages of writing a memoir. They cover topics such as identifying key moments, creating compelling characters, developing a narrative structure, and finding one’s authentic voice. The book also offers practical guidance on editing, revising, and navigating the publishing industry.
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