Craft of memoir writing

If you are one of those who believe that there must be the presence of a subtle literary craft in presenting nonfiction, just as in fiction and poetry, you must admire and acknowledge the literary value of Creative nonfiction as a contemporary genre of literature.

It is a fact that today a lot of writers are showing their passion in writing and publishing creative nonfiction. They are enjoying the excellence of their craft by exploring the pleasures of writing personal essays, autobiographical excerpts, memoirs, literary journalism. Gone are the days when only snooty novelists and short story writers, apart from poets, were considered the only species of serious writers. While the art of writing personal essays and autobiographies have been exploited by thousands of writers for many years now, memoir writing, another sub-genre of writing autobiography, has caught the fancy of a multitude of creative writers in the recent years. Any creative writer, who has the gift of storytelling, who has an engrossing life story to convey to his readers, who has the ability to craft that life story with resonance and presence, can come up with interesting, engaging memoirs. Some of these writers in the recent past have truly done so, with memoirs like Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, Judith Moore’s ‘Fat Girl: A True Story’, or John Grogan’s ‘Marley and Me’ being dominant on bestsellers lists for quite some years now.

 Memoir Writing as a Genre of Creative Nonfiction

In the past few decades, journalistic works based on true events and stories have enjoyed widespread popularity in the US and worldwide. In the same breath, one can speak about the growing popularity of creative nonfiction based on true stories and personal accounts written in a creative, fictional tone, while maintaining the realism in the writing. Memoir writing, a distinct genre of writing creative nonfiction, has gained the maximum popularity with people loving this form of narrative real life experience. A genre that derives its name from ‘memory’ or ‘reminiscence’, memoir writing takes the readers to a voyage where they get to experience a particular aspect, a particular perspective of the author. Often the journey is one of self-discovery, or the one that is therapeutic or cathartic in the final analysis.

The Narrative Technique and Autobiographical Context Used in Memoir Writing

The cornerstone of success of a memoir writer is his/her craftsmanship with words, the brilliance of the syntax and the language structure. We are talking creative nonfiction here, a distinct variety of nonfiction where the theme may be based on a true story or event, but where the content and the presentation, the overall execution of the theme aims at not only informing, but also moving and pleasing the reader. This is why when the writer writes a memoir, he/she uses some subtle narrative techniques of an autobiography as well as some elements of the tone and style of fiction writing.

Memoirs are almost always autobiographical in tone and context; though structurally, a memoir writer is not supposed to cover his entire chronological life span or the traditional arc of birth to childhood to old age. Like most autobiographies, a memoir writer gives an account of his/her life experiences in the first person narrative. However, the specialty of memoir writing is that through the engrossing autobiographical narrative, the writer takes the reader to a specific period of his journey of life, to a specific experience that engages the readers till the very end.

Some Significant Highlights of Memoir Writing

·Like any modern journalistic form of nonfiction, there is the use of the first person reportage in memoir writing. Due to this fact, memoirs are characterized by the restrained use of subjectivity, by the constant interpretation of what the writer observes as a life experience.

There is a constant attempt at revealing the conscious and unconscious motivations and feelings of the author/narrator.

· There is the development of a healthy emotional and intellectual curiosity that builds up while the writer narrates his life story.

· What makes memoir writing a distinct piece of creative nonfiction is that through the journey of narrating his personal experiences, the author tries to reach out to a universal perspective.

Finally, it is the intriguing combination of the rumination, the lyrical impression, and the sheer beauty of the language with which stray hard facts are woven into the texture of a memoir that makes it a delightful and moving form of literature of the contemporary times. As Annie Dillard, the diva of nonfiction prose says, it is the formation of the text, the creation of a piece of art that comprises the beauty of nonfiction prose, just like a painting or a musical composition.

Sources:, “What is Creative Nonfiction” (Accessed March 26, 2010)

Barrie Jean Borich: “What is Creative Nonfiction” (© 2001, Barrie Jean Borich)

Judith Barrington: “Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art” (available at, “Creative Nonfiction: The Memoir”: by Melissa Donovan (Accessed March 26, 2010)


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