Transforming Autobiography into Memoir
November 8, 2018
4 PM PST | 5 PM MST | 6 PM CST | 7 PM EST
I’m pleased to present Nancy Chadwick as our November Virtual Book Club guest. Nancy’s book Under the Birch Tree is a story of discovering connections and finding home. She will tell you next what her book is about and what we can learn from joining her in her discussion. Remember, all the authors who are guests at our Virtual Book Club were once unpublished and on the same path you are as you write, edit, revise, polish and publish your memoir!
A birch tree grows tall and arabesque in the front yard of my childhood home. Over time, the tree becomes my buddy and first learned connection, synonymous with home—and one spring morning, I make a discovery under its boughs that foreshadows the many disconnections within my family, relationships, jobs, and home that are to come. Through the decades in my life, a search for home, not physically, but figuratively, carries my story of survival and triumph over adversity. This is a story of what it means to belong and to find a good place to be, at home.
Key Points to Writing This Book:
- Making memoir from autobiographical narrative.
My memoir covers three decades of my life. I wrote of this longer period of time to best show a beginning, a middle with self-progress being made, and a resolution to my story. Writing about a longer period of time can be a pitfall for a writer who may find herself with autobiography and not memoir. Therefore, it is imperative a writer’s theme is strongly and consistently woven through to act like glue to keep it all together.
- My experiences are relatable.
I had to show that the issues (autobiographical experiences) we have in our lives – divorce, bad relationships, lack of friendships, unfulfilling professions – are all relatable. No matter if we are young or middle-aged, we have common, relatable experiences. Making sense of my experiences combined with reflections makes readers care, moving from autobiography to memoir.
- Include only pertinent and crucial experiences.
Every scene and experience had to have a reason why I was including it. This shows focus and meaning, necessary for memoir development.
- Write vivid, descriptive scenes with effective dialogue.
Scene showing rather than telling was crucial to keep my reader wanting to turn the page. Immersing a reader in a scene with using all the senses places her in the writer’s world.
- My memoir had to have purpose.
Unlike autobiographies, memoirs are unique stories – with a purpose. I show the reader how I navigated my life’s disconnections. My own navigation can be an example for a younger reader to build her own road map in finding a place she wants to be. For a middle-aged reader, she may use my story to reflect on her own life as to how her disconnections affected her and what connections she looked for to find her place.
Over the ten plus years I was working my manuscript, I had more rewrites than I could count! I found my rewrites were not moving me toward the finish line. I struggled with too much autobiography and not enough memoir. Reflections and the “making sense” part eluded me.
I will also discuss:
- Getting a professional critique
- Finding a professional editor
- Publishing pieces of my story
- Checking relatability of my story all the way through to the publishing process
- Marketing and outreach
Nancy Chadwick got her first job at Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago. She couldn’t get to where she wanted to be so she turned to the banking industry where, after ten years there, she realized she wasn’t a banker. So she quit and started to write finding inspiration from her years in Chicago and San Francisco. Her essay, “I Called You a Memoir” appears in The Magic of Memoir, Inspiration for the Writing Journey, an anthology. She and her husband live outside Chicago and enjoy traveling, cooking fine dinners, and chasing their beagles in circles.
I’m not able to sign up – would you please sign me up for this. Thanks!
Just signed you up.
I’ll be anxious to listen to the recording, as I’m unable to be there at the appointed time.
I love what you said about memoir versus autobiography: “Writing about a longer period of time can be a pitfall for a writer who may find herself with autobiography and not memoir.” My own memoir spans quite a bit of time and was a challenge.
Just yesterday I met a writer who is probably middle-age who said she’s writing an autobiography. I asked her if she’d considered memoir, and she said “autobiography because I’ll be focusing on several aspects of my life instead of just one concept. This will, of course, culminate into the overall function of the book.” Am I wrong to think she might better accomplish this through memoir? I don’t hear of many people, except maybe old and/or famous people, writing autobiographies.
Sign me up for the Virtual Book Club today.
Just signed you up. Check for email for call info.
I missed listening to Nancy Chadwick the other day.
Has it been posted to listen to yet.. and if so where can I find it?
I’ve looked on the namw web page.
Nancy’s recording hasn’t been sent out yet. We should have it to everyone no later than Monday.
You can find that recording at the bottom of this page: https://namw.org/2018/10/november-virtual-book-club-free-to-all-november-8-2018/