Writing About Yourself: The Memoir

Ever felt like drowning after reading a book?

Zinsser left me with little choice after this chapter about memory-writing. It’s not that I don’t agree with him or that I could learn from what he says. I certainly can, and I do. It has more to do with struggling to reign in the ideas ping-ponging around in my head.

Zinsser wrote about permission. “We have to write what the teacher wants,” students frequently complain. They don’t think they have permission to write what they want to in the way that they want. “Why not? Wasn’t America the land of the ‘rugged individualist?’ Let’s get that lost land and those lost individualists back,” Zinsser insists (97).

Secrets of memoir writing involve detail. Look at that little crack in the brick wall into your life, like a pictorial snapshot, and write what you see. Find a hidden sense and pull it out. Zinsser points out Alfred Kazin’s use of smell in A Walk in the City. What about sight? Sound? Taste? Touch?

Beyond senses, though, focus on people. They are the “crucial ingredient” to a memoir. “Sounds and smells and songs and sleeping porches will take you just so far” (107). The strange neighbor in your childhood life, the way your mother always brushed her teeth before bed, the garbage collector every Wednesday always whistling the same old tune, “Love and marriage goes together like a horse and carriage.” The people make the memoir a memoir.

And the most hero or heroine of the story? You. “The best gift you have to offer when you write personal history is the gift of yourself” (110). So “give yourself permission to write about yourself and have a good time doing it” (110).

Do you understand now why I am drowning?



2 thoughts on “Writing About Yourself: The Memoir

  1. I write about my life all the time, but would find it hard (although also exciting) to write a memoir. I can see why you are drowning!
    I love the way you have written this blog post – it made me want to read more of your work. Thanks for including me as a related article in your post. Sandra

    • Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed this post! Also, I loved how your article touched on Zinsser as well. I have found him to be a fascinating and helpful read. I hope your memoir (or story writing) goes well!

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