We all know there’s been a memoir-craze over the past few years, and the good folks at Entertainment Weekly (one of my fave magazines, btw) have compiled a selective list by subject matter.
I love the list and was pretty tickled by it, but as a writer and writing teacher, I do object to this notion that your life has to be extreme to find good material in it. In it Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly is quoted as saying:
‘Well, you were a
drug addict, but did you kill anybody? Well, you killed somebody, but
did you do it with your bare hands? Well, you were hungry, but were you
as hungry as Frank McCourt? The more that’s written, the harder it is to
come up with something new or dramatic to say.”
In the let’s-sell-the book sense that’s obviously true, but all you writers out there, I beg of you: strike Nelson’s words from your brain. I mean, writing about life and its problems and woes has been going on since.. writing began. No one has said anything really new in centuries. So the last thing on the planet that we need now is a bunch of writers sitting around trying to hatch up something new or dramatic. What we need is writers sitting down and really thinking through their lives through the lens of story. (To have a good story, you need to have strong characters that want something, and either achieve their goals or fail to through conflict, which you then render vividly. Read Lagos Egri, The Art of Dramatic Writing).
With personal writing like memoir, the last thing you need to do is think about your "competition" while you’re writing. More essays and memoirs die on the vine from the thought: this has been done before. Don’t worry about it. Do your writing. Write it well. Worry about the sales strategy after you’ve finished.