Writing Narrative Nonfiction: The Age of Memoir

June 30, 2008
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Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

 

Your Life As Story:  Writing Narrative Nonfiction
The Age of Memoir

by Lisa Dale Norton
July 2008

"Really listen to those memories you are conjuring. Tune in. the day has arrived when books about personal lives—narrative nonfiction"
—NORTON

Once the novel ruled. Fiction was king, but the day has arrived when books about personal lives—narrative nonfiction—have stormed the walls of the palace of publishing and taken command of the industry.

Memoir—writing about your life—is all the rage. From New York Times bestsellers to blogs, everyone is mining his life to create stories and present them to the world.

In just the last year a dozen memoirs have topped the New York Times bestseller. . .
NORTON

In just the last year a dozen memoirs have topped the New York Times bestseller list, including books by Barbara Walters, Julie Andrews, Leslie Jordan, Suze Rotolo, and Scott McClellan. In August, Sean Connery will launch his memoir "Being A Scot," and even Madonna's brother is writing a "memoir about his sister."

Some of us in the memoir camp would argue many of these books do not fit the category, but are rather what we would call autobiographies. Still, this celebrity rush to co-opt the term "memoir" and ride the wave of life writing only solidifies the current craze for all things memoir.

"There’s never been a better time to look at your life experience and craft from it a tale that will entertain
and enlighten, . . ."

—NORTON

There’s never been a better time to look at your life experience and craft from it a tale that will entertain and enlighten, and the readers are everywhere. While New York publishers have tried over the past decade to pooh-pooh the memoir into the shadows, the genre refuses to disappear. More people are writing it, and more people are reading it.

So how do you get started writing your memoir? Look for what I call the Shimmering Images of your life. I’ve written about these iconic memories before, but you may be new to this column. If so, here’s a quick definition: Shimmering Images are those memories that float up into your consciousness over and over again. They look like pictures in your mind—a frozen moment in time—of some past experience. They can be anything—a phrase your father said, the spark in his eye as he spoke; your daughter at the beach rushing out of the waves and across the hot sand; a smile and wave as your turned and walked for a plane—but one this is firm: They will be a memory picture of a moment in time that carries great weight for you and for your life. Something is attached to that Shimmering Image—in the long circuitous lineage of who you are—that is an essential story, and when it is pursued as a piece of writing it will reveal deeper meaning in life experience.

"What you do as a writer of memoir is latch onto those memories."
—NORTON

What you do as a writer of memoir is latch onto those memories. Take note. And now it the time to be paying attention, as we segue into the long days of summer.

Summer is a time of much memory-making in our culture. School days are over and friend and family adventures begin. Lots of Shimmering Images are stored in the summer, and things that happen this summer will stir up memories of summers gone by. Keep track of these memories.

". . . join the cultural phenomenon called the Age of Memoir."
—NORTON

Then when summer wanes and you swing back into the rhythms of fall, the shorter days and crisper nights, when you spend more time in the house, you can begin to weave together those memories, to write your own memoir, and join the cultural phenomenon called the Age of Memoir.

About
Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR, will be released by St. Martin 's Press in Spring '08. She is the author of Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sand hills (Picador USA/St. Martin 's Press), a work combining memoir and nature writing. Lisa teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the power of story and the process of writing your own. She lives in Santa Fe. www.lisadalenorton.com

 

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