Structure: The Backbone of Your Memoir

Structure your memoir

Structure your memoirWe’re all fired up about STRUCTURE this month. Why? Because we see over and over again how important this key element is to actually executing a readable memoir. Plus, we know it’s a place where memoirists struggle, and there are some firm decisions you can make to ease your way into a structure that sings.

We invite you to take advantage of this information-packed hour: STRUCTURE: THE BACKBONE OF YOUR MEMOIR. It’s happening next Monday, November 14, at 4pm PT | 5pm MT | 6pm CT | 7pm ET. We’re going deep here—covering:

  • What structure is, why it matters, and how you can think about structure without overwhelming yourself completely—especially if you’re in the middle of writing your memoir.
  • Tools that support structure—your table of contents, turning points, and scaffolding. These are simple ways to help focus the structure of your book, building on what you already have.
  • Traditional story arcs and how to fit your memoir into them. We will discuss how the energy of a memoir moves forward—problem/conflict/situation, which finally reaches a climax, followed by resolution—and how to track your own arc.
  • Types of structures: linear, braided, associative, framed, and circular. Complete with examples of each kind.

It’s Monday: November 14, at 4pm PT | 5pm MT| 6pm CT | 7pm ET
Brooke Warner and Linda Joy Myers

Don’t worry if the timing doesn’t work for you. We always record our webinars. As long as you’re signed up, you’ll get the link the next day.

We’ll see you Monday!

Linda Joy & Brooke

The Soul Making Keats Memoir Contest—Please submit your work!

The Soul Making Keats Memoir Contest

The Soul Making Keats Memoir ContestI’ve enjoyed judging the memoir vignette competition for the last several years as a sponsor.  What I love is being immersed in worlds other than my own, and being invited into the hearts and lives of others. I urge you to edit your work, and even get it edited by a professional before you submit. You want to send the very best version of your writing. Take a chance and submit—you’ve got nothing to lose!

Here is a tip list for how to make the best impression for a memoir judge.

  1. Check for typos over and over again. Present your work as perfectly as you can. That is a signal that you care about your work.
  2. Create powerful scenes, where you bring the reader into your world with sensual details of sound, colorful descriptions, texture, and smell.
  3. Use techniques such as reflection to tell the reader what you are thinking and feeling.
  4. Make sure your scenes show something significant.
  5. Create an arc for your story, a beginning, middle and end, and find a way to offer a universal message to your readers.
  6. Write with passion, panache, and authenticity to create a story that goes beyond “this happened to me.”

I look forward to reading your work! The entries are blind so I don’t know who the writer is, to help make a fair and just assessment of each piece.

The Vignette Prize Category Details

Up to 1,500 words. The root of the word memoir is “memory.” A memoir is a story told in the first person about personal experiences—that actually happened—this is important. The contract with the reader of a memoir is that what you are writing is true, and the truth is shaped into a story. Of course you may need to change names, and create the essence of dialogue and even weather, but the essential truth of people, places, events is there. A well-written memoir will use dialogue, scenes, sensual details, and draw the reader into a world the writer creates. The reader will be changed by the memoir story, and learn something new about people and how we all live here on the earth together and yet set apart by the silences that must be broken to connect us.

Write several drafts, tell your story fully, and keep that inner critic quiet. Read it aloud, and listen to your voice as you approach a later draft. Most of all, enjoy writing, remembering, and sharing your work. As we say at the National Association of Memoir Writers: Be brave—Write your Story.

Learn more about the contest here.

What Made Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire a Best-selling Memoir?

Brain on Fire

Brain on FireJoin us for our new best-seller short course:

How to Write a Memoir That Changes Lives

Class dates: Sept 19, Sept 26, Oct 3, Oct 10
Mondays at 4pm PT | 5pm MT | 6pm CT | 7pm ET

All classes are one hour and we record all sessions so that you can watch the recordings if you have to miss a class.

Brain on Fire (soon to be a major motion picture) set us on fire! This fast-paced memoir has a lot to teach memoirists about how to write what you don’t remember; the value of advocating for others through your writing; and the power memoir holds to truly change lives.

Cahalan brilliantly captures her month of madness, despite the fact that she recalls almost nothing of what happened during that time. She uses effective techniques, like dropping into the point of view of others, incorporating records and journals, and excerpting bits from video sessions. In pushing the boundaries of memoir through the use of multiple “I” narrative voices,  Brain on Fire is a valuable teaching tool to aspiring memoirists who want to better grasp the power of transformation—and how to bring your reader all the way into the story as you face your own struggles and setbacks, and areas of growth and transformation.

Class 1 (Sept 19). Writing What You Don’t Remember

  • Techniques for writing what you remember
  • How to free yourself from the burden of not needing to remember everything
  • Tools for exploring the depths of your remembered and unremembered experiences
  • Unconventional storytelling for the memory-challenged

Class 2 (Sept 26). Characterization of the Self in the Narrative Arc

  • How to track your narrative “I” and how you can learn from Susannah’s many “I’s”—her normal self; her diagnosed self; her ill self; her “guinea pig” self; her recovering self; her advocate self
  • How to characterize yourself and others in unreliable narratives
  • The importance of pacing as it pertains to characterization and character development in the storyline
  • Distinguishing between the real, the unreal, and the possibly real and why to make sure your readers know what’s what.

Class 3 (October 3). The Power of Showing

  • How to write descriptions that show
  • Varying up tenses as a showing technique
  • How to make your reader feel what you feel by tracking the intensity, discomfort, physical reactions, and other visceral experiences in Brain on Fire
  • The importance of showing broader cultural issues in your era and/or as pertinent to your particular issue

Class 4 (October 10). Takeaways and Other Devices to Create Meaning

  • How and why to use journalist techniques to create takeaway
  • An exploration of different types of takeaways
  • The power of unconventional narrative techniques and how and why they create meaning
  • How to get at the heart of what matters in your own memoir to write a book that changes lives

Sign up here.

How to Write a Memoir That Changes Lives – Free Webinar September 12, 2016

Brain on Fire webinar

Brain on Fire webinarLinda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner are back with the next installment of their best-selling memoir series, with a free offering.


Join us on Monday, September 12, for “What Made Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire a Best-selling Memoir?”

Monday, September 12

4pm PT | 5pm MT | 6pm CT | 7pm ET

Come discover how to crack the code and create a memoir that has the capacity to change lives with this free webinar exploring the New York Times bestseller Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan.

We chose Brain on Fire for our next installment in our bestseller series because it’s a fast-paced memoir that has a lot to teach memoirists about how to write what you don’t remember; the value of advocating for others through your writing; and the power memoir holds to truly change lives.

Susannah Cahalan brilliantly captures her month of madness, despite the fact that she recalls almost nothing of what happened during that time. She uses effective techniques, like dropping into the point of view of others, incorporating records and journals, and excerpting bits from video sessions.

In pushing the boundaries of memoir through the use of multiple “I” narrative voices, Brain on Fire is a valuable teaching tool to aspiring memoirists who want to better grasp the power of transformation.

In this FREE webinar, Brooke and Linda Joy will explore:

• How Cahalan’s mission-driven sensibility showed up in her work, and in what ways having a mission (as opposed to an agenda) at the heart of your memoir serves your story.

• How to deal with what you don’t remember—and why you can’t write a memoir that changes lives if everything you don’t remember is off limits.

• What Brain on Fire can teach you about structure and narration—from short chapters to writing from various “I” narrators to the story arc that makes this book such a page-turner.

• How to use journalism techniques to drive home your points, educate your readers, and deliver a memoir that matters.

Join us for this hour-long free webinar Monday, September 12, at 4pm PT | 5pm MT | 6pm CT | 7pm ET.

Learn more and register for this free event.

Memorial Day Sale 2016

2016 NAMW Memorial Day Sale

Summer is a time of relaxation, vacations, travel and reflection.  What better time to gather your thoughts and put pen to paper?   Join the National Association of Memoir Writers and take advantage of the “writing season!”

NAMW is a membership organization that invites memoir writers from all over the world to connect, learn and become inspired about writing their stories. Our goal is to help you feel empowered with purpose and energy.  See yourself begin to develop your life stories into a memoir that’s ready to published, whether in essay form, a book, a family legacy or a blog. 

When you join NAMW, you are receiving the support of fellow writers from all walks of like.  Benefits of membership include: 

  • Free and discounted writing workshops designed to assist you in staying on task and focused;
  • Teleseminars covering the techniques that allow you to capture your memories and stories;
  • Author platform building & publishing tools; and
  • Access to a community of dedicated memoir writing professionals and enthusiasts. 

We are constantly looking for innovative ways to provide you with the tools and support needed for your unique memoir writing journey.

2016 NAMW Memorial Day SaleIn May, a time of remembering, the roses are blooming in our gardens. There’s happy birdsong and blossoms and many shades of green. Spring has sprung and we humans love celebrating these long hours of light. Our minds melt into dream as we feel the earth rich with new life. I believe that when we tune into the natural forces of the earth and the cycles of time, our creativity participates in these cycles, inviting us to dig into the treasures of our hearts and souls.  As memoirists, we need these moments of dream and reflection to help us move forward with our stories.

Remember, every month of this year invites you to make more progress on your memoir. As you tune into the glorious light of the season, shine your creative light into writing your memoir. Think about why you’re writing, and the legacy you are creating about your life and the wisdom you’ve gleaned.

That’s why memoir is still so popular—to readers and writers. People need and want to learn from others about how life can be lived, about the transformations that can happen which create a circle of hope and inspiration for all.

Checklist of questions to ask yourself about the progress of your memoir:

  • What is the message I want to convey in my memoir?
  • How many words each month/week/day is my goal?
  • How many words have I written? (Keep a running list on your computer. )
  • What are my turning point stories—these are the most important ones to include. Make a list now and compare it to your last outline/musings. Maybe you have new stories to add.
  • How many turning point stories have I finished? How many are started?
  • What inspired you to write your memoir: List five reasons.
  • What skill sets do you need to develop? How are you fulfilling that need?
  • Remember, writing 300 words a day-a little more than one page-gets you to a first draft manuscript in six months.

Each month at the National Association of Memoir Writers, we offer Memoir Roundtable podcasts and Member Teleseminars to help people learn about the skills of memoir writing from the experts on the calls. The callers enjoy talking with each other and the presenters, and valuable information is delivered on each call. Over time, we get to know each other, and build a feeling of community. Member group coaching with me as the leader has been very popular with all our members. They are able to talk with each other, gathering in community on the phone. We talk about each person’s memoir project and cheer each other on. This is available only to members of NAMW.

We enhance community connections on our Member and open Facebook groups and page. Just type in National Association of Memoir Writers, and join us. Tell us what you’re writing and reading, the new skills you’ve developed, and what’s happening in your writing life.

the flag of the United States and the text Memorial DayTo celebrate remembering, to encourage you to write your story and leave your legacy, we’re offering a membership salea full $30 off our usual fee.

May 28-May 31–it’s just $119.00 for our full membership, a $149 value. You will immediately be able to download our digital gifts.

Existing members can renew for the discounted fee of $109.

You can also become a lifetime member for only $549.

To celebrate the 8th anniversary of the National Association of Memoir Writers, we’re including additional gifts you will receive when you sign up:

  • The PDF and audio of The Glass Castle, the book that rocked the memoir world by Jeannette Walls.
  • A PDF of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir—by Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner. This book tells you how to build your memoir from the ground up.
  • How to Sell Your Memoir—12 Steps to a Perfect Book Proposal by Brooke Warner. You’ll learn how to think about getting your memoir sold, and how to write a proposal.

Of course, members have immediate access to all the resources in the membership area of the site–over 100 audios and articles and several eBooks that address your memoir writing needs. To learn more about our membership benefits please visit us here.

Take advantage of our Memorial Day Sale by clicking here.

I wish you a glorious Memorial Day, and invite you to remember, write, and celebrate your life by starting your memoir today.


Myers makes a compelling case for the power of words as a form of healing and growth.

James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D. professor of psychology, The University of Texas at Austin and author, Opening Up and Writing To Heal

...the NAMW memoir classes with Linda Joy Myers are wonderful

Kathy Pooler