If you’re anything like me, someone who is interested in telling her stories and recording her family history but wants to explore other options besides writing an entire memoir, Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016) is for you. This full-color, glossy coffee-table book not only explores different forms of memoir but also contains some of the BEST MEMOIR WRITING ADVICE I’ve ever read in a condensed format.
Let’s start with that. Chapter 2: Five Simple Steps to Telling a True Story by Joanne Lozar Glenn is my favorite chapter because her memoir writing advice is specific and inspiring. It dissolved all the overwhelming feelings I previously had about writing a memoir. “Once you start creating your memoir, what do you do with all the memories that come flooding in? The answer is be selective, and tell the truest story you can.” Joanne tells you to choose a moment, keeping the focus small, and then walks you through the steps of crafting that moment step-by-step. You see the progression of her work from one sentence to writing it into a scene, revising it, and finally shaping it like Play-Doh into the perfect format. It’s the best example I’ve seen. She also answers common questions about how to deal with holes in memory, how to incorporate facts, deal with dialogue, questions about family secrets, and more.
The Memoir Roundtable—a group of six writers, crafters, and workshop leader—authors this book, each author writing her own chapter or two.
Another favorite is Chapter 3: Around the Table: Food and Cookbook Memoirs by Dianne Hennessy King, public TV producer, cookbook editor, and cultural anthropologist. Dianne shows you how to create a food memoir as a cookbook, an essay, a cooking video, a CD, a quilt, an oral history, and a blog. The part that gave me several ah-ha moments was where she poses questions to trigger your food memories. “Can you remember a ‘first time’ for tasting a specific food or dish that seemed exotic or strange to you?” When I read this question and its examples, I immediately thought back to when I was five-years-old sitting cross-legged on a tatami floor in Okinawa eating grilled sea snails. It may sound gross, but they were actually delicious! Back home in California, I told my four-year-old neighbor about my snail-eating experience and watched her pluck a snail from an ice plant beside her and pop it in her mouth. I screamed, “Nooooo!!” and snatched it out of her mouth before she could crunch down on its shell. I hadn’t remembered that until I read this book. And that’s what this book does, spark amazing memories! Imagine taking those two sentences I just wrote about eating snails and expanding them into a scene; a scene that could be part of a food memoir about my Japanese heritage and my travels to Okinawa.
Chapter 5: Create Your Graphic Novel by Natasha Peterson provides you with the basic elements you need to create your graphic memoir. And she writes it in comic form! The thing that she said that stuck with me the most is that there are no rules. Combining your memories with illustrations is a powerful and captivating way to tell a story. I’ve created comics before and even received grants for them, so I’m thinking about turning some of my personal essays into graphic memoir pieces.
If you are a parent or teacher or auntie or mentor to a child, Chapter 7: Nurturing the Young Storyteller by Nadine Majette James explores memoirs from a younger writer’s point of view, as well as how crafting a memoir can preserve childhood’s most precious times. I especially appreciated the sample projects and activities as well as the questions appropriate for young interviewers. I remember interviewing my mom when I was ten-years-old with an old cassette tape recorder in the bathroom because I thought it had the best sound. I wish I still had that tape; then I’d still be able to hear her voice. These types of projects are so important to preserve history and can help kids build skills and self-esteem.
There is also a chapter on researching your heritage—where to start, where to look, genealogy, and what questions to ask. And finally, another one of my favorite sections is “Appendix A: Getting Over Your Fear of Writing” by Joanne Lozar Glenn. She shares a number of writing prompts including lists, maps, objects, and photographs to get your pen moving!
Writing a memoir does not have to be tedious or overwhelming!
Memoir Your Way is one of the most inspiring writing books I’ve read in a while. It explores the art of memoir in many different formats and gives you the tools to jump right in. Each format has examples, resources, and takeaway. It makes memoir fun, not tedious or overwhelming! “Don’t worry about whether it would win an award. Its value lies in creating it in the first place.” I don’t need to stress out about writing a formal memoir. Instead, I’ll focus on creating. The book is written in a fun, friendly tone, and packed with ah-ha moments. It would make a great gift for the crafty person in your life. I can’t recommend it enough!
Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Though Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More is available in ebook and print at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.
Check out their page on Facebook, connect with the authors on Twitter @MemoirYourWay, and visit their Pinterest board.
Angela Mackintosh is working on a series of creative nonfiction essays with accompanying illustrations and photo collages. Sort of like a graphic memoir, but totally unique because she's doing it her way.