HAVING DECIDED TO WRITE MEMOIR FOR A LIVING has its perils. For me, it has some extra-prickly ones, since my only sibling has been teaching memoir-writing for 13 years, and has a disarming thing or 20 to say on the topic—plus she shares a lifetime of my memories. Now Marion Roach Smith has tucked her tactics (along with a number of our childhood anecdotes) into “The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life.” With our memoirist friend Katrina Kenison, we’re celebrating the new book and the very medium of memoir—offering six chances to win Marion’s irreverent little guide to writing what you know, whether in a whole book, a blog post, or even a letter to a loved one. Do you dare try?
Holding Marion’s latest book in my hands, I’m reminded how much writing my memoir, “And I Shall Have Some Peace There,” meant to me—which of course the tagline to her book’s title more than hints at with the “…& Life” part. I don’t think I’m unusual when I say that writing stuff down helps me sort it out; the act of writing has enriched and clarified over and again. Without a pen or a keyboard, I sometimes wonder if I could really think at all, or puzzle my way forward.
A couple of years ago, while I was sitting writing about dropping out of my longtime publishing career for a rural life and renewed personal creativity, Marion was an hour away, parenting, writing and taping a daily radio column, blogging, serving on boards—and teaching the art of memoir to wait-listed classes. Somehow in that juggling routine she was always ready with just the right memoir-writing trick on her blog each time I needed one to keep my own book on the tracks, and “coincidentally” helped me push onward.
If you’re looking for warmup exercises or a cheerleader who never says anything but “rah-rah,” wrong girl. Marion (above) is a do-er, and will expect you to be one, too—again, even if you simply wish to give your spouse an anniversary gift of some written facet of the years, or your adopted child the story of the day you met her. Don’t get my sister started on subjects like writer’s block (no such thing, she says—and believe me, I tried that excuse). Don’t tell her you’re doing your writing “exercises” when she asks if you’re at the desk working. Doesn’t count.
She prodded me to remember that “just because something happened doesn’t make it interesting,” and to never forget what the story is about: to ever-vigilantly keep the theme in a place of prominence. With an offbeat humor (maybe it’s genetic?), Marion takes you through the steps to success. Just look at her Table of Contents for a hint of how she thinks:
To write good memoir, Marion says, You Must Be Present to Win (Chapter 1), paying attention and telling the truth. You should channel Galileo in Walmart (Chapter 2) by not letting all the “stuff” in those crowded aisles distract you; focus that lens of your telescope. Lest you find yourself Having Sex With Roger (Chapter 3), keep your eyes open, the lights on, and a notebook by the bed, all in the name of creating The Barbie-Bodied Book (Chapter 4), whose whistle-stopping figure won’t let readers peel their eyes off your argument.
She dares us all—not just those pursuing the writer’s path professionally—to write it all down, and for that prodding I have usually thanked her (except when it exasperated me, in the way siblings cannot help but do from time to time; I get in my turns, I promise).
If I sound proud of Marion’s latest book—her fourth—in a more-than-sisterly way, a postscript: I am, because “The Memoir Project” got its start as a dare from me, the big sister. Year before last I challenged Marion to write what she knew—her class curriculum—so we could self-publish it and maybe, just maybe, get a major publisher to buy it someday. I guess I spoiled the suspense of that story by revealing in the first paragraph here what came to pass. Congratulations, Marion!
How to Win 1 of 6 Copies of ‘The Memoir Project’
MARION, KATRINA AND I are each giving away two copies of Marion’s new book “The Memoir Project,” and all you have to do to win is comment, answering the question:
What memoir that you have read mattered to you, and why?
Copy and paste your comment onto all three of our blogs to triple your chances of winning—again, each of us has two copies to share, and we’ll all draw winners at random (using the tool at random dot org) after entries close at midnight Saturday, June 18.
- On Marion’s site, on her latest post.
- And on Katrina Kenison’s, author of “The Gift of an Ordinary Day,” whose message has been heard not just in print but by nearly 1.6 million YouTube viewers so far.
Now we are pretty flexible, we three, so even if you don’t want to name a book, or have a title but not a reason why, that’s OK. Simply say, “I want to win,” or “Count me in” or some such, and your entry will be official. But remember: copy and paste it on all three blogs, using the bulleted links above. Good luck! (And we can’t wait to see the booklist you help generate with your replies.)