Where to Start Your Memoir: Richard Hoffman

May 26, 2011 § 7 Comments


Author Richard Hoffman was interviewed by Lisa Tener on her blog this week, including his wise and useful take on “What advice would you give someone who is just starting to write a memoir–where to start writing?

Wherever you can! Think of a spiderweb. You can hook that first thread anywhere it will hold. The important thing is to not think in linear terms at all when you’re writing. Write scenes. Write pages of reflection. Write what’s available to you to write today. Memory’s mercurial; if something offers itself to be explored, explore it while it’s “live”. If you shoo it away because you’re convinced that today you’re going to work on, say, Chapter 7, it might not come back! That’s my experience anyway.

Write modularly in the order that presents itself to you. You’re exploring, looking for clues, praying for happy accidents. Trying to uncover what was hidden (sometimes by the “official story” you’ve been telling yourself for years). A book is read from the upper left-hand corner of page one to the lower right-hand corner of the last page — but that is not how it is written! At least not in my experience. Composition happens only later, when you’ve turned over every rock and shaken every tree. The next stage, fashioning a story, a narrative, from the parts comes pretty late in the process.

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§ 7 Responses to Where to Start Your Memoir: Richard Hoffman

  • Ann Hostetler says:

    “A book is read from the upper left-hand corner of page one to the lower right-hand corner of the last page — but that is not how it is written! At least not in my experience. Composition happens only later, when you’ve turned over every rock and shaken every tree.” — Richard Hoffman

  • Lisa Tener says:

    I, too, was taken with Richard’s wisdom. For those who would like a fuller experience than a blog post, I highly recommend the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference sponsored by the University of Rhode Island. Richard is one of many illustrious authors who will be presenting and teaching there. http://www.uri.edu/summerwriting/2011/index.html

  • Ray Foreman says:

    Richard, you hit on the nail. Pieces jotted down while your memory ejects them on cards pasted on a wall, door, then when you have enough string together with spaces inbetween. Writing a memoir whether “all true” is an healthy experience for a writer…lets him/her know who they are or want to be.

  • Kate Kaiser says:

    I 100% agree with the notion of write what’s alive and talking to you, but the “it might not come back” idea I disagree with. The important puzzle pieces always resurface. Any story knows what it wants to be and is simply waiting for the writer’s crafting tools to hone it.

  • Yes. I give the same advice. We don’t write linearly, and memory isn’t linear. Thanks for this!

  • I totally agree. I don’t believe you can write a memoir the way you write a novel. I have been writing mine for the last five years and it is a continuing process. I use 5×7 cards and whenever a memory comes I jot it down to be fleshed out later.
    Thank you for great advice, Richard. dorry

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