Teaching Memoir

Saturday I moderated my first writing group for DWW. We had a large room for the event, and three sessions going at once. Kathleen did poetry, Mira explored journaling, and I talked about memoir. Aside from teaching what I know about memoir,  which is fun all by itself, it was also a thrill to get to know other Detroit women writers.  

In two hours I took my group through some pre-writing exercises designed to get them thinking about their lives. I explained how memoir is different from autobiography, fiction or journaling, and what makes memoir come alive, become more than just a story we tell around the table.

After I did my talk, I had them write out a short anecdote, a story often told. Everyone read them aloud. That was fun. Then I explained that meaning is key to memoir and separates it from mere anecdote. We all tell stories around the family table, but memoir takes it further. I read my short memoir “Snow Day” (which BTW will be out in book form Very Soon. I think the pub date is December 10. Exciting!) so I could illustrate clear examples of what I was talking about as far as “meaning” goes.

Finally I showed them how they might take the fragments and jottings and anecdotes we worked on and structure them into a larger whole with a single overall focus. But what if your memoir spans many years? One woman asked. That’s fine. A large part of Your Words, Your Story is memoir. It’s focus is my writing life, from the early poetry days on through thirty years of writing everything from novels to blogs.   

The show runner for the event actually sat in on my session! Another woman in my session also belonged to DWW. So these people were, some of them, professional writers. Another lady just happened to be in the library that day. She likes to write, so she stayed. I felt such gratitude that I had something worthwile to offer other writers.

And after the workshop was over, everyone was so appreciative and kind, fired up to start (or finish) their own memoirs. Also, every single person in my session bought my book at the book sale afterward. And some people from the other sessions bought it, too! It couldn’t have been a better day.

I’m moderating the same class again next Saturday in Oak Park, so if you live in the area, call the library and sign up. It’s free!

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