"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Making the Most of Your Memoir**Dr. Noelle Sterne


If you’re writing a memoir, or have the desire to, more than the facts are necessary for a meaningful work. For your memoir to have depth for you and your readers, it must have two facets: the facts and the emotional truths about the facts. Emotional facts are, as Vivian Gornick points out in The Situation and the Story, the “deeper truth.” This is the part readers relate to most.

We have history books and court stenography for recitals of facts. The goal of your memoir is to “convey the emotional truth of your experience,” memoirist and teacher Marilyn Bousquin says. “Your story contains a universal truth about what it means to be human”

Why Do It?

As painful as memoirs may be in the creation, we have many purposeful reasons for writing them. Here are a few:
  • To share fascination or inspiration about yourself, a relative, an event, a succession of events.
    • · To memorialize or honor someone or some event.
      · To exorcise your demons—your own propensity to stealing, addiction, infidelity.
      · To tell a moving story, e.g., coming to America, surviving the Holocaust, building
      a business and a life.
      · To show victory, conquest over tragedies and hardships—from poverty to financial stability, from a crippling disability or disease to a normal life. · To show reaching a dream—of becoming a nursing professional, a musician, a
      teacher, an actor, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a mother.
      · To leave a legacy—for the family, and to record your unique family history.
      · To achieve catharsis: a haunting event, a mistake you think you or someone else
      made, a wrongful or wronged event.
      · To reconcile, often with catharsis.
      · To expand your mind, learn more about yourself, and in the words of a recent workshop participant, “to dive deeper into [your] soul.”
So, identify your own underlying reasons for writing your memoir, and they will guide you to your emotional truths—and the engagement of your readers.

Engaging Your Readers

You want readers to picture and feel what you’re writing about, without pointing out the theme, moral, or lessons. Rather, use fictional techniques—details, scene-setting, movement. And remember that old writing axiom, Show, don’t tell.

For example, in a memoir about your favorite uncle you could write, “Uncle Giorgio was dismayed and looked sad.” But this sentence won’t cut it for long. The reader wants to know why Uncle Giorgio was dismayed, and why did this matter to you?

So, in a more emotionally truthful version:
Uncle Giorgio was dismayed and looked sad because, I later realized, he saw that I was a nine-year-old child and couldn’t really understand his frustration with his life. I watched tears at the corners of his eyes slowly descend as he said, “Ah, little one, how can you know of the potential and power one feels as a young adult? The world is open for your tasting, every meal. But later, when the ridiculous necessities of life take over, before you can eat much you are forced to leave the table.”
His red, round face wrinkled in sorrow, like a sad clown, and I resolved that I would never leave the table hungry.
Too Hard?

No doubt about it—our memoir writing—confronting our emotional truths—can be extremely painful. We must remember, relive, reconstruct, and re-feel what we’re writing about, such as an abusive parent, a partner’s infidelity, a child’s addiction or death. You may not want to relive it all.

Reaching the Reader

But . . . if you tell the truth—your emotional truth—and speak from your true self, you cannot help but have something important, different, and thought-provoking to say. No one else has your perceptions and abilities, and therefore your story and your voice are unique. At the same time, you will evoke similar feelings in readers.


So, gird up your loins, marshal your courage, and plunge in. Your very pain will get transferred to the page and thus to your readers. The words will come, and even the tears. Talk to the page, to yourself, and your readers will be reached.

You will feel proud of facing what you tried to avoid; you will feel cleansed, and less afraid. And you will produce a memoir true to yourself and shining with your emotional truth.


Author, editor, writing coach and soother, dissertation nurturer, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 400 writing craft, spiritual articles, essays, and stories in print and online publications. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle assists doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, her current handbook addresses students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). In Noelle's Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she helps readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com.
Noelle is glad to (gently) help writers reach their goals of completing their memoirs. Contact her through her website: http://www.trustyourlifenow.com.

Your thoughts, readers? Any memoir writers out there?

Image credits: Pixabay.com


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  3. Noelle, thanks for sharing this info. I'd not thought much about writing a memoir, but perhaps it's something to consider in the future.

    Jen, thanks for hosting. Appreciate you keeping us informed with good posts.

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksOctober 11, 2018 at 8:49 AM


      You're very welcome. It'a pleasure!

  4. Karen--

    Many thanks. Glad to hear you're considering a memoir. A thought: Start small, one page or one-two paragraphs, with a little jewel of memory. You may find great satisfaction.