Guest blogger Cindy Zelman on “10 Million Links to Help Make Your Memoir Stand Out! (Part 2)”
Or, more simple advice for those new to memoir writing. (Scroll down to the previous blog post if you missed Part 1.)
Suggestion Number 3: Find your voice. You may know that the memoir market is glutted with terrifying and sad stories of sexual abuse, physical abuse, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Does that mean your own story on such topics won’t get the attention of an editor? Well, that may depend on voice. Voice in writing is what sets you apart. It’s a bit of an elusive term.
I will use an analogy to popular music. When you hear a Beatles’ song, you know it’s the Beatles. When you hear an Adele song, you know it’s Adele. Not because of how their voices literally sound, but because their entire presentation is in a unique voice. Four Beatles were vocalists and yet you always knew it was the Beatles playing on the radio, regardless of who sang lead. When you read something by one of your favorite authors, you know it’s that author without even looking at the book jacket. Why? Because of voice, the sound that the writer generates, a tone and an attitude embedded in the writing, that makes his or her writing unique, a DNA stamp of sorts.
One way to develop voice is to write naturally and to write often. Practice. Don’t try to force flowery language or humor or pathos. Write the first draft of your memoir as if you were telling the story to a friend sitting next to you. So, keep on writing and practicing until your voice emerges and your story of drug abuse doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.
Suggestion Number 4: Revise…and revise some more. Did you hear that? REVISE! Then REVISE again! Show your manuscript to friends, enemies, writing workshop participants, teachers, and then REVISE again! (Don’t overuse exclamation points in your writing!) Put the draft away for awhile, reread it, and revise yet again.
Those are my four simple steps to writing a good memoir. Easy right? Absolutely. Not. Writing a memoir is akin to writing a novel and it takes time, but if your story is worth telling, take the time. Don’t worry about the market. There are periods when genres are “hot” as memoirs have been in the past decade, and then they cool off – as they may have at the moment. But I firmly believe if you write a great manuscript, put the time and effort into it -- and that can take years -- eventually, it will find a home, no matter the genre.
I leave you here, with what should be suggestion number 5: read some great memoirs. Here are a few to start with:
Lucky by Alice Sebold
The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
The Chelsea Whistle by Michelle Tea
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggars
Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III
So, go to it, writer friends, get down to your writing. And remember there are 3 – 10 million links out there to help you make your memoir stand out, so if this post has not been helpful, Google it and good luck.
Cindy Zelman is a creative nonfiction writer whose work has appeared in numerous journals including Feminist Studies, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, The Whistling Fire, and Cobalt Review. She is finishing a full-length memoir about how panic disorder and a dysfunctional childhood have affected her romantic relationships. You can read some of her work on her blog, The Early Draft.