Writing Narrative Non Fiction: The Research Memoir

April 29, 2009
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Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

 

Writing Narrative NonfictionThe Research Memoir

by Lisa Dale Norton
May 2009

"Memoir today is best combined with a story about something outside your emotional experience."
—NORTON

I was in New York City last week teaching a workshop about the Compassionate Memoir and attending a conference on writing and the business of selling books these days. At the conference there was a panel of editors and agents, and one of the agents used a term I’d not heard: the research memoir.

While I was aware of this trend in memoir—and had counseled many a client to move in this direction—I had not yet encountered the term. It speaks loudly of movements in the industry and of what every writer who wants to pen a story about his or her life should remember: Memoir today is best combined with a story about something outside your emotional experience.

Whether it’s work you did in Pakistan, let’s say, in the 1990s before the current turmoil, or the struggles of establishing a day care in the inner city at the beginning of that movement, or relief work after a flood or tornado, or saving a dying horse—whatever it may be you have done, you can enhance your own personal journey of growth, and coming to terms with your life by including “research” about this parallel topic.

"If you are serious about writing and selling stories about your life, effort to improve your research skills can only help . . ."
NORTON

If you’ve never taken a class in journalism, I recommend doing it. It can rapidly teach you how to gather information and use sources. If you feel the need to brush up on skills about how to do research and how to use what you’ve found once you’ve done that research, a basic class in English could do the trick. Classes in both of these areas can be found at your local community college.

If you are serious about writing and selling stories about your life, effort to improve your research skills can only help your chances as a published author. Your memoir will be more interesting for everyone, from agents, to editors, and finally to readers.

"The research memoir is the way to go in today’s marketplace ."
NORTON

The research memoir is the way to go in today's marketplace of narrative nonfiction.

About
Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE
GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR (St. Martin's Press), is in bookstores now. Lisa is the author of the acclaimed memoir HAWK FLIES ABOVE: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE SANDHILLS, a work combining memoir and nature writing. She teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the process of memoir. She lives in Santa Fe. www.lisadalenorton.com

 

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