What Jeannette Walls, Rick Bragg, Tobias Wolff and J.T. Glisson have in common is that they all have written best-selling memoirs that beautifully tell the stories of their lives. To this list, I could add at least a hundred or more titles of memoirs, which are engaging, well written, and so valuable to the aspiring life-story writer.

In each Writing Your Life class session, we read a published memoir, study the writing practices of the author and attempt to implement some of the devices in our own writing. We’ve studied the four books mentioned, and each one provided us with direction on how to turn the events of our lives into stories others want to read.

To be a good writer, you need to be a reader. So much can be learned from reading other writers’ memoirs, but to do this involves effort. We have to engage in close reading for the text to impact our own writing. Our goal has to be more than reading just for entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with reading merely for the joy of it, but when we desire to learn from an author, we need to go deeper. We need to read with a writer’s eye, study how the writer uses words, examine our responses to the story but more so, decipher what the author is doing to create those reactions in us.

Here are a few tips to help you read closely: 

  • Get involved with the text, ask questions, look for answers
  • Read slowly, absorb the words on the page, don’t fly over them
  • Look up words that are unfamiliar to you and write the definitions in the margin
  • Be aware of the writing devices the author is using, e.g., dialogue, scenes, description, setting, etc.
  • Underline, highlight, make notes in the book

 So, tell us, what are you reading right now? What are you learning from this author? How do you think it can improve your writing?

(Image © Klaus Rademaker | Dreamstime.com)



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