Tag Archives: memoir craft

The Craft of Memoir – Write Like a Novelist

NAMW August Member Teleseminar–Marcia Butler

August 18, 2017

11 AM PDT   12 PM MDT  1 PM CDT  2 PM EDT

One of the greatest compliments I received when my memoir was published was hearing from reviewers and readers alike that my book “read like a novel.”  Most memoirs have a gripping tale to tell, which is vital not only from a publisher’s standpoint, but also for the expectation of the devoted reader of this form. Yet, skillful and nuanced storytelling must be a goal not only of the novelist but of memoirists as well.

After all, there is only one difference between fiction and memoir. In the case of a novel the plot is made up. But the memoirist knows the story and all the characters. We know how the protagonist will succeed and fail; who lives and who dies. The memoirist is in full command of thoughts, feelings, memories, the beginning and the ending. Novelists make their decisions throughout the writing process, tossing out characters and plot threads that don’t serve the narrative.

But memoirists know the stakes from the very beginning and it is our job to tell our story with compassion, craft and intelligence. We must keep the reader turning the pages, eager to see what happens next by pacing the action, by writing believable dialogue and by creating chapters that satisfy as a whole. Just like a great novel.

In my teleseminar, I’ll show you how to tell your life story with the skill and nuance of a novelist.

  • Build your world view
  • The process of selecting scenes for inclusion – must we tell everything?
  • How to make a distant yet important memory come to life
  • Short lens and long lens as a way to create depth and space in a scene
  • Writing from anger and grief – keep this in check and remain be a believable character/writer
  • Craft dials apply to memoir too – use the senses
  • Some characters do not warrant page space – choose carefully
  • Know what your story (plot) is – life is big but a book can contain only so much
  • How to get your character “across the room” – tools to elide gaps in time or compress time


Marcia Butler Short Bio:

Marcia Butler is the debut author of the nationally acclaimed memoir, The Skin Above My Knee. She was a professional oboist for twenty-five years until her retirement in 2008. During her musical career, she performed as a principal oboist and soloist on the most renowned of New York and international stages, with many high-profile musicians and orchestras – including pianist Andre Watts, and composer and pianist Keith Jarrett. Marcia was a 2015 recipient of a Writer-in-Residence through Aspen Words and the Catto Shaw Foundation. Her work has been published in Literary Hub, PANK Magazine, Psychology Today Magazine, The Aspen Institute, BioStories and others. She has written a novel which is currently out for sale to publishers. Marcia lives in New York City.


Writing Bestselling Memoirs Without Throwing Everyone Under the Bus


July Member Teleseminar  with Linda Watanabe McFerrin

July 25, 2014

11 AM PDT  12 PM MDT   1 PM CDT  2 PM EDT


Any professional editor will tell you that the key to writing a fantastic, bestselling memoir is drama and relevance, but sometimes it hard to amp up the intensity without causing major collateral damage with family, community or friends, not to mention ex-spouses and lovers.
In this seminar you will learn how to take those quiet moments and turn them into spellbinding revelations and how to do it without throwing all of your friends and loved ones under the bus.

You’ll learn:
• How to use literary craft to create tension and drama.
• How to build suspense.
• How to make sure your story connects with a wide audience while remaining your story.
• How to build in relevance.
• How to write in a way to which agents, editors, publishers and, yes, loved ones too, will respond.
• How to use bestselling fiction techniques in real-life storytelling.

Linda Watanabe McFerrin) is the author of two poetry collections and a winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction. Her novel, Namako: Sea Cucumber, was named Best Book for the Teen-Age by the New York Public Library. In addition to authoring an award-winning short story collection, The Hand of Buddha, she has co-edited several anthologies, including the Hot Flashes: sexy little stories & poems series. Her latest novel, Dead Love (Stone Bridge Press, 2009), was short-listed as a finalist in the 2007 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Competition and was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist for Superior Achievement in a Novel in 2009.
Linda has judged the San Francisco Literary Awards, the Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence and the Kiriyama Prize. A past NEA Panelist and juror for the Marin Literary Arts Council and the founder of Left Coast Writers®, she has led workshops in many countries and has mentored a long list of accomplished writers and best-selling authors toward publication. www.lwmcferrin.com


Start Your Memoir Journey Now–Online Class with Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner

Start Your Memoir Journey Now

Wednesdays, 4 PM PST/7 PM EST    

September 5, 12, 19, 26

If you want to write a memoir, but don’t know where to begin, join us for this brief course to get you started. In this four-week course, Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner will help you identify how to start and what kind of memoir you are writing. We’ll look at your stuck places and offer some skills to achieve your dream of completing your memoir.

Beginnings are important. How do we start with this amazing journey called a memoir? Your life is complex, there are so many stories. Luckily, there are basic ideas, tools, and concepts that help you get started and we will begin with a few of those.

• Understanding your theme, message, and scope.

• How to manage overwhelm when your story seems too big.

• Types and subgenres of memoir—and why you want to know what you’re writing.

• Figuring out your turning points, timeline, and action moments to give you a launching off point.

Handout: turning point exercise, turning point article, memoir topics.


Class 2. September 12


As you move through your ideas, topics, timeline, and turning points, you may hear that pesky inner critic niggling at you, or you may wonder about how good your memory is, or wonder how your family will feel about your truths. Structure and goals help when the process gets murky, so we are going to head toward those tools by the end of this session.

• Addressing what’s holding you back and giving yourself permission to just write.

• Questions of truth and memory, and how to keep writing despite what you don’t know or don’t remember.

• Sketching out your outline to give you motivation and momentum.

• The importance of themes and takeaways—why your memoir can’t just be the story of your life.

Handouts: inner critic; themes and takeaways


Class 3. September 19

Getting your memoir off the ground means writing whatever you can to get started, and also planning your writing life. Planning and structure help to balance out the overwhelm of too many ideas and stories, or too many worries. There are so many great stories you have to tell.

• Freewriting—aka downloading—and its value for working through stuck places.

• Where to begin? Or how to manage what you already have if you’re drowning in notes, partial drafts, and half-written chapters.

• The value of process—scheduling your writing and having a writing plan.

• The power of the narrative voice and how you can harness it.

Handouts: Freewriting; narrative voice.

Course 4. September 26

Craft—you hear that term a lot but it is so great to know that there are tools and tricks of the trade that can be learned that help you write a great story. We will discuss some of these today so you can keep writing your memoir.

• Basic craft of memoir—narration, scenes, and plot.

• Why being relatable and transparent in your writing will gain you more readers.

• How to use through-threads in memoir and why they help you create a cohesive and complete memoir.

Handouts: plot and three acts





For more information or to sign up:

Non-members: $99

NAMW Members: $89




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