Review: Fearless Confessions — A Writer’s Guide to Memoir

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.

5 Comments

  1. Angela   •  

    Hi Thursday,

    What a great review! I like that you wrote it from a freelancer’s point of view. I can see how the tips in the book would be helpful to crafting articles. It’s always good to add a little more flavor and sensory detail to even a seemingly technical article–it makes the read that much more enjoyable. Your post is a great reminder that we can still be creative in our approach to freelance writing. :)

    Ang

  2. thursday   •     Author

    @Angela, My first instinct is always to relate whatever I’m doing to freelance writing — because everything is important. There’s always a new story idea or angle, or a detail that will draw in a reader. It’s one of the things that drew me to writing: I can read about food preparation, science fiction novels and a new social networking site — and it all counts as work!

  3. Ami   •  

    Thanks for the review! I’d love to read this book. I’ve been hearing great things about it around the web. I’m a technical and freelance writer who also writes personal essay and memoir pieces, so I think it would be an excellent resource to add to my library. I’m wondering, what are ways the author deals with pieces of memoir that might not go over so well with those you’re writing about?

  4. Sue Silverman   •  

    HI, Ami,

    Thanks so much!

    In terms of your question about writing about other people, that is an issue that all memoirists must deal with, alas.

    To some extent, how one feels about writing about friends or family, comes down to comfort level: how do you feel knowing you might upset some people? For me, it’s my basic belief that, as a writer, I own my own stories, my history. My job as a writer is to tell my truths as faithfully as possible. That said, though, I never write from a place of revenge. I write to understand events…understand what they meant to me. So I only write about others in ways that they affected me–if that makes sense.

    But this is a complicated issue, and I spend a lot of time on this very subject in Chapter 9 of “Fearless Confessions,” how to approach the idea of telling family secrets. There are quotes and examples from other authors who struggled with this very topic, which you might find helpful.

    Thanks for the interesting question!

  5. Ami   •  

    Sue –

    Thanks so much for the personal answer to my question! I really am looking forward to picking up this book. I think it might be just what I need to help me break through some of the walls I’ve been coming up against in my memoir writing. Thanks again!

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