To get started writing your memoir, it is helpful to read memoirs, personal essays, and books about the nuts and bolts (the craft) of writing. Here are some recommendations.

As Chloe Yelena Miller discussed on Great Day Washington, keeping a diary or a journal can be a great way to flex the writing muscles and brainstorm ideas. But what if you aren’t sure what to write? Writing prompts can help the new or stuck writer do just that. Chloe’s perennial favorite is Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.

In her memoir writing workshop at Politics and Prose bookstore, Chloe recommends that the students read the anthology The Art of the Personal Essay edited by Phillip Lopate. This offers a broad range of examples through history, including translations.

In a class on ethical and moral issues in memoir which she co-teaches with law professor and memoirist Martha Ertman, Love’s Promises, they recommend the anthology Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family edited by Joy Castro. This book offers a series of perspectives from memoir writers regarding what they decided to write – and not write – about their family.

Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a great example of a memoir about a writer’s life, as well as some writing tips. You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--From Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between by Lee Gutkind offers direct advice about writing creative nonfiction. Since creative-nonfiction draws its craft from fiction, the classic John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction is a great place to start.

Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary is a less traditional memoir focusing on the author’s changing experience with keeping a journal after becoming a mother. Her life as a writer, experience with time, and relationship with a journal may be of particular interest to all writers. In reference to her journals and the space between writing and experience, Manguso writes, “Someday I might read about some of the moments I’ve forgotten, moments I’ve allowed myself to forget, that my brain was designed to forget, that I’ll be glad to have forgotten and be glad to rediscover as writing. The experience is no longer experience. It is writing. I am still writing.”

Accessible online, Joan Didion’s essay On Keeping a Notebook invites the reader into Didion’s experience of keeping her own notebook and re-reading it years later.

Find a writing class at Politics and Prose to help you start off this new year writing:

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