The Art Of Memoir: Studying the Heavy Hitters

In previous blogs, we’ve examined how to find your story and how to structure your story. But one of the best ways to learn about writing memoir is to read the genre.

The most memorable memoirs inspire us, create a world we wouldn’t have otherwise visited, educate us or make us feel a little less alone in our experiences. They provide a new perspective and world view by allowing us to see the world through someone’s else’s eyes. 

Below is a very short list of some classic memoirs that have left a lasting impression on me, and given the sales figures, on a great many other people.

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest memoirs of recent time is The Diary of a Young Girl  by Anne Frank. Her record of her life in hiding in Amsterdam during the summer of 1942 is horrifying and profoundly moving. Her strength, humour and curiosity persevere while facing unimaginable evil and is awe inspiring.  

On a much lighter note, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is an intimate memoir of self-discovery.  After the end of her marriage and a subsequent relationship, Gilbert embarked on a year-long journey beginning in Italy, pausing in India and ending in Bali, taking time for herself and examining her spiritual needs. Intensely honest and humorous, this memoir highlights the effects of grief and the need for self-care and reliance. 

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is a touching memoir where Albom, a successful sports columnist, spends fourteen Tuesdays with his former sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is dying from ALS.  In the course of those Tuesdays, they reflect on topics relevant to living and dying.

Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born A Crime, documents his early life as a child in South Africa, born to a white man and a black woman, essentially making his very existence a crime.  Sad and funny, Noah illuminates a time and place that needs to be recognized and never replicated.  

Wild by Cheryl Strayed tells of her journey through the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon and Washington in the wake of her mother’s death and the dissolution of her marriage.  With no experience or training, Strayed completed the hike and emerged with new-found strength and healing.

This short list is by no means complete and there are innumerable books that should also be included. It is interesting and important to note that most of these memoirs, with Noah as an exception, were written by a non-celebrity with an important and unusual story to tell and crafted with exceptional writing. Their experiences and/or life lessons resonated with a larger audience. There is much to be learned from studying them, both in life and in writing.

If you are considering telling your story, consider our Manuscript Accelerator workshop.  We’d love to work with you in creating your memoir!

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