In general, I don’t review a lot of books on writing techniques, preferring to focus on business techniques. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t read them — and that they aren’t valuable to freelance writers. I think it’s important to have a wide variety of writing skills at are disposal, beyond the standard copy writing and article writing that seem to go with our job descriptions.
I started Sue William Silverman’s book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir with that approach in mind. I found a wealth of information about writing memoirs inside, including more than few techniques I’ll be able to take to other styles of writing. But I found more: the book is only partially a guide to writing memoir. It is, in part a memoir of writing memoir: Silverman chronicles her experiences in writing and publishing two memoirs of her own.
Those stories are motivating. For many writers — even those who have been making a living from their work for years — branching out can be difficult. Telling one’s own story, rather than reporting on an event or pulling together a business’ story for a brochure, is even harder. Silverman’s story provides a reminder to long-term writers that it is necessary to try new forms — and that writing about yourself is not always the negative we’ve been trained to believe.
Fearless Confessions is structured for a fast read. Each chapter contains guidance on developing your memoir, from tying your memories into a central theme and building a plot structure from what really happened. A great deal goes into shaping a readable story from personal experience — many of the events that we think of as crucial in our own lives have absolutely nothing to do with the overall story of who we are. Just the same, the smallest details can transform a boring recitation of facts into a memoir worth reading. Silverman helps drive these points home in the many examples she provides: each chapter has a short memoir piece that has been published to help guide writers new to memoir writing. There are also several longer pieces in an appendix at the back of the book.
There are also quite a few writing exercises to guide you through the process. Since some writers may struggle with such a major shift in style, subject matter and approach, such exercises may make a major difference in their ability to learn the skills of memoir writing. Such skills do relate quite clearly to writing other pieces, as well: I’ve already found myself focusing on adding more experiential details to my articles — even if I have to extend an interview to get them.
As per usual, I’m offering up my review copy as a giveaway. Leave a comment on this post with a question about memoir writing and, on Friday, I’ll pick a winner randomly. I’ll cover postage within the U.S.