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A few days ago, I enjoyed speaking with Nina Amir, Jerry Waxler, and Sharon Lippincott in our first roundtable tele-discussion. We decided to talk about the intersection between memoir and nonfiction— how to help memoirists think beyond writing a book, to think about smaller pieces that can help build both writing skills and lead toward publication long before the book is complete.

Memoirists usually take years writing a memoir, but there are so many ways to get your work out into the world. Nina triggered lots of ideas for us when she talked about all the ways that she uses personal experience to get her work published—from personal essays that begin with an event that day—taking her son to his dance class for instance, or writing about an idea to muse about in meditation—she writes a blog about spirituality too, along with dance and writing topics.

Writing a personal essay sounds easy when Nina talks about it: choose a topic, write a scene that invites the reader into the topic, discuss the topic and then end the essay with another small scene.  And writing a smaller piece does something that we all need to do—it gives a focus to the point  we are making and helps us not write too much.

And we can use what we know as memoirists—our knowledge base from life experiences, and write a how-to article. For instance, I could write about how to have compassion for parents with mental illness, based on my experiences growing up with wild and crazy women.

Sharon and Jerry added to the discussion and we all shared our excitement at the idea of writing and publishing shorter pieces on the web.

So the challenge this week: choose a moment when something significant happened that you learned—and you think the lesson is something that can help others. Write about the scene, what you learned, and how someone else can use what you learned. Keep the word count to 800 words. Good luck!

Interested in listening to the full audio recording of the teleconversation?  NAMW members who are logged in to the NAMW website can access a link to download the audio mp3 of this call below. If you are a current NAMW member and can’t see the details below, please be sure to login as a member to access the details from this page or the Audio Download–look for the link in the left sidebar of any page on the NAMW website!

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