I pulled this list from The Guardian’s “Ten rules for writing fiction,” described as “Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing” Because I’m deep in editing a memoir draft, I dropped the fiction reference. Winterson’s rules fit any type of writing, which is appropriate given her just-published memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
- Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.
- Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.
- Love what you do.
- Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it.
- Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.
- Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.
- Take no notice of anyone with a gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.
- Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.
- Trust your creativity.
- Enjoy this work!
It’s rare to hear the word “memoir” mentioned without “voice” following a few words behind. Author Mary Karr (The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit) has said in interviews “In memoir, the only through-line is the character represented by voice. So you better make the reader damn curious about who’s talking.”
So how do you create that voice? Vivian Gornick offers strong insight on this in The Situation and The Story: The Art of Personal Narrative. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
However, if you’re looking for great advice right now, check out Alan Rinzler’s post on creating a compelling narrative voice. Rinzler is a consulting editor who spent decades as an publisher and acquiring editor. He distills several key pieces from Gornick’s book and offers his own suggestions based on memoirs he’s edited.
What’s your favorite resource for writing a memoir and/or developing a strong voice?
~ Elizabeth McCracken
I am a huge Elizabeth McCracken fan. She creates the most wonderful, tilted worlds that feel real yet take you into another dimension, like Dorothy stepping into the technicolor Land of Oz.