Reading and Writing Memoir

I’m  surprised when a student admits to not having read many memoirs. Can you imagine a mystery writer who doesn’t read mysteries? I think anyone attempting to write a memoir should read memoirs — lots of memoirs. If you can’t read the entire book, at least delve into the first pages and analyze the style of the author. Present tense? Past tense? Does the author jump directly into the inciting incident? What is the story about? What is the structure? What does the voice sound like?

I just completed reading the memoir, The Rules of Inheritance, by Claire Bidwell Smith.  If you are struggling with structure in your own memoir, Smith has a very concise way of placing the reader in time. She uses a simple note under the chapter number (i.e. Chapter One, 1996, I’m Eighteen).  What really stood out for me was Smith’s use of the reflective voice. We are right there with her, feeling her emotions and understanding the complexity of her situation.

Would I recommend reading this book? Yes! If your own memoir deals with loss, coming of age, or finding your way out of grief, this is the book you should be reading. Study it. Mark it up. There are many lessons to be learned from published authors. But most of all, sit back and enjoy a good read.


  1. Candace
    Jul 20, 2012

    I loved this post!

  2. Deb
    Jul 20, 2012

    Spot on.
    Since I started writing my memoir, 90% of my reading is memoir. I love them. The stories are touching and entertaining, and I get free instruction on writing a concise and engaging story.
    Thanks for the validation, Angela. You are the best.

  3. Charmaine
    Jul 20, 2012

    When memoir is compelling, I cannot put it down! The Rules of Inheritance sounds interesting. I may have to pick it up when I have a day or two to spare. Thanks for the recommendation for a “good read.”

    • affoster22
      Jul 21, 2012

      I really loved it. It has all the elements of a well-written memoir. But I wouldn’t call it uplifting!

  4. Niomi Phillips
    Jul 21, 2012

    I am so happy to be receiving your blog again. Thank you! My project is now a memoir, and I’m grateful for any suggestions.

    • affoster22
      Jul 21, 2012

      Nice to hear from you! I’ll be sending out an email soon about the Writing in the Garden in Brainerd. It will be on Tuesday, August 28th. My sister Candace and I will be teaching together. What fun! Maybe we will see you there.

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