Sunday, September 20, 2015

Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir edited by William Zinsser

  One thing teaching in a Title One public school taught me was that people are interesting.  Each person I encountered was a story unto themselves and after teaching almost a decade, I encountered a lot of people.  As the years accumulated,  I felt a desire in me to preserve these personalities the way others want to capture moments with a camera.

So I set myself to the task of writing.  I learned a lot about writing simply from the practice of it.  One thing I learned is that real life doesn't run along the smooth lines of a story:  conflict, plot, suspense, action leading to a climax, resolution.  Thus, I decided that to make my stories interesting to both myself and to the reader, they needed to fit the story formula.

This, of course, changed my memoir to fiction.  But I think that everyone who has read my stories would agree that the stories flow more cohesively and are a lot more fun to read.

Upon reading Inventing the Truth:  The Art and Craft of Memoir, I was happy to discover that many writers of memoir stumbled upon the same conclusion.

In this anthology of writers' memoirs, we meet many different sort of writers, journalists, novelists, professors at universities who teach all sorts of things not necessarily related to writing but have all written a memoir of some type or other.

Each writer discusses why they wrote from the angle they chose. Russell Bake decided to narrow his memoir to his relationship with his mother and her impact on his life.  This meant leaving out most of his life,  but allowed a straight line to take the reader from A to B without getting side tracked.

Some writers had interesting childhoods.  Jill Ker Conway, a professor, wrote about growing up in Australia.  She shares what motivated her to write about her complicated, personal relationships and the challenges of rising through the echelons of a University as a woman.

Alfred Kazin writes of growing up inside the Jewish culture in Brooklyn.  His objective is to get the reader to see every stoop, traffic sign and the smells coming from the restaurants and see the people brushing by on the crowded streets.

 Toni Morrison believes everyone should look at their historical self, the actual history and the perceptual as a minority.  She believes black writers have two objectives: to say this is my personal history, but also the history of my race.

Annie Dillard doesn't believe in memoirs but rather that we should use our personal experiences to write our stories, so, according to her, it follows that every story a writer pens is really a memoir on some level.

Each writer offers their own perspective and insight in how to write about one's life or at least aspects of it.

Ironically, when I read samples of some of these writers' books on commercial sites, I didn't find their writing very interesting.  Which goes to show that one can write well about a topic without necessarily living up to another person's expectations of that topic.

This book however will be of interest to anyone interested in writing and receiving the ideas and thoughts of successful, published writers.


Brian Joseph said...

How a writer incorporates their own life and experiences is such an old and interesting subject. Reading the diverse opinions of so many writers sounds very enlightening.

In terms of giving a writer freedom, I think using real life in fiction would work best.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian! I just read an article about Mary Karr who is said to have started the memoir craze with her book "The Liars Club". I think this must be hype because I know many books that fit the genre of fictitious memoir long before her book was published.

Diwakar said...

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Unknown said...

I shall have to add this one to my "must read" list. Thank you for the posting.

Sharon Wilfong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharon Wilfong said...

I meant to say: He RT. Thanks for visiting. Hope you're doing well.