writing

Prescriptive vs. Narrative Nonfiction

As I continue along my journey down the path of writing my first book, a memoir, it’s taken me months of trial and error to figure out how to do it, and although I’m still struggling, today I made real progress.

You see, back when I first started trying to figure out how to write my book, I thought I’d begin by reading similar books in the memoir genre in order to understand their structure, conventions, and obligatory scenes. 

My first choice was Becoming by Michelle Obama. I admire her greatly and would love to read about her life. 

Enter problem #1…

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writing

Ten things I’ve learned as I struggle to write a memoir

Oh boy, this is so much harder than I imagined it would be. I figured after returning to the U.S. from four years living in Qatar, I’d whip out the story of my experience and voila! Book. After all, I am an English language specialist, a grammarian of the pickiest kind (yes, you need to use the Oxford comma; no, you cannot place a semicolon where a regular comma belongs unless…). Writing a book should be pretty easy, right?

No, so much no.

1. There are loads of different genres within memoir

Love, grief, coming-of-age…. Who knew that all of these genres have obligatory scenes that must be included for the book to work? Who knew that metaphors in writing can be considered “too happy” in their connotations for a dramatic scene to work (laying at the bottom of a stairwell like a broken Christmas cookie left on the baking sheet: too happy to show rock bottom).

2. Transcendence is everything.

A memoir has to show how the writer transcended during the main event of her memoir. She has to be a changed person, for better or for worse (and both draw readers). So how was I changed by my experience in the Middle East?

For starters, I’m definitely a better teacher. The quality of colleagues I was working alongside and projects I was involved in made that happen. Also, I know I’m a better person because I’ve re-evaluated some of my personal values regarding relationships thanks to a hard lesson learned.

What else?

Continue reading “Ten things I’ve learned as I struggle to write a memoir”