Writing a memoir? Stick to it!

Yesterday I participated as a panel member discussing “How to Develop Your Memoir with Appeal to the Widest Possible Audience” at the Genre-LA Creative Writing Conference. Unfortunately the room was not full, but the four of us on the podium spoke from our experience writing, editing, and marketing memoirs to get an interested and inspired response from those who did attend.

Our memoir-writing panelists

I think the most important point we made was in answer to this question:

Defining a memoir’s theme or focus can be overwhelming – how can aspiring memoirists choose which events, memories, or moments to include, and which to leave out?

My answer to that would be:

Don’t write a complete autobiography. Pick a subject that’s timely and universal. For example, my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, is about our son’s mental illness and suicide and how our family survived it. And right now mental illness and suicide are in the forefront. Suicide of young men especially is an epidemic though women are more and more completing the act as well.  Pick a subject like that or others such as conflicts of intermarriage, sexual orientation, addiction and overdose, experience of sexual abuse during childhood, raising children with disabilities. All stuff we read about in the news and what people are interested in.

What I found most stunning was that a couple of attendees felt their subject matter was so hard to write about it stopped them cold. I know the feeling. Writing about my son’s suicide and the aftermath was gut wrenching. But I felt and still feel now, if I helped just one person with what I wrote in my book, it was all worth it. I told the folks that yesterday in trying to motivate them to keep writing.

I also came away with the notion that memoir-writing is far from dead. It’s an important genre that’s good for both the writer and reader. It takes guts to write memoir, but for all the heartbreak it may cause, I recommend perseverance.

What are you writing?



  1. I enjoyed your piece on your son’s suicide and your reactions.

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