Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Voice of the Writer in Memoir

This past year, ever since we came back to the States, I've been all wrapped up in work for WiDo Publishing. It's our ten-year anniversary and we are very close to having our 100th book published.

We also started a new imprint, E.L. Marker, a hybrid company that offers traditional publishing services to self-publishing authors.

It's been a crazy busy year. The only writing I've done is journaling (my personal psychotherapy) and writing emails to authors whose work I'm editing and/or preparing for publication. So many emails.

I've edited a number of memoirs this year for both WiDo and E.L. Marker, and it's got me thinking about the writer's voice. In any kind of writing, voice will attract or repel readers. But in memoir it's especially important. If you dislike the voice of the narrator, you won't keep reading, since the memoir is about the narrator.

There a few tricks of the trade in editing a memoir to make the voice more appealing. Strangely enough, one of them is to tone it down. You might think, "But why? It's about this person so why not put as much personality in there as you can? So the reader can feel like they know them?"

A good question. The entire book is about the individual, in first person, their story, but it's also about other people they've included in their story. And those other people are part of what makes the memoir whole and balanced.

Putting in too much of the writer's personality, in the form of little asides or sarcasm or other types of humor, can quickly turn the reader off. It tends to make the narrator come across as self-absorbed and thus unlikable--the last thing we want to see happen in a memoir.

If you'd like to take a look at WiDo's selection of memoirs, click on this link to our bookstore and see the tab for Memoir.

Memoir is currently my favorite genre. I can't get enough of them, which I guess is why I've chosen to edit so many lately, rather than passing them along to other WiDo editors.

How do you feel about memoir, either writing or reading them?

14 comments:

  1. Hi Karen - you're right the voice always matters. I don't like too much celebrity ... but am happy with the history or story-line contained there in. I thoroughly enjoyed Farm Girl ... that was such an interesting read ... cheers Hilary

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    1. I'm glad you liked Farm Girl, Hilary and thanks for letting me know.

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  2. I've only read a couple of them, including the one from WiDo by Ann. Not my favorite genre, but if the person interests me, I'll give it a shot.

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    1. Alex, very nice that you read Ann's memoir. I thought it was fascinating, really liked her book.

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  3. I love them - provided they aren’t full of ‘Aren’t I wonderful’ but give me a reflection of how they are in the wider world.

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  4. It's difficult to get a memoir just right, I think. Now after reading your post, I understand why. I have lived a not very ordinary life and often felt it would be fun to try to write one, but then not tried it, thinking it would be far too self-absorbed. Thanks for this, I will remember it when I read my next one.

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    1. Inger, there are ways to keep a memoir interesting to others and not just a me, me, me story. The good ones do it so naturally the reader doesn't even realize it.

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  5. That's a great point. Balance is key to everything. It makes sense that is true for memoirs also, even though it's not something that we would automatically think.

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  6. How to balance things is the key to ever6thig we do. It must be hard to edit one’s own memoir or even having someone else do this. I would take it hard if things were edited to make it flow better. I understand why but when you place your heart into your own memoir and things you feel are important or very emotional, editing this would be hard to see..and do!

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    1. Brigit, it can be tough on both sides, as writer or editor. But the end result should be an improved, more polished book.

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  7. I'm with you when it comes to toning down, Karen.Subtlety goes a longer way.

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  8. Memoir is also my favorite genre. My favorites are those where the author manages to present their thoughts and words, as if they were just telling a story. One of my all time favorites was Farm Girl. The voices in that book seemed so real and authentic. The grittiness and hard times of that period really came through. That is how life was back then, and that is how people back then would have told us the same story. I'm not saying this because you are the author. I'm saying it because I loved it.

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  9. Congratulations on the ten-year anniversary and that WiDo is close to publishing a 100th book; that's awesome. And I love memoirs; my bookcase is full of them. I especially like memoirs by people like Jen Lancaster, David Sedaris, and Dave Barry. (I also really like some of the celebrity memoirs, like the ones by Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling.) Those writers have done what I try to do in my own writing: they take ordinary events, like going to the store or having dinner but write about it in a funny, sarcastic way that makes it sound entertaining. And the more neurotic the author of a memoir is, the better. :)

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  10. I enjoy reading memoir. To me it's fascinating to read about other lives and to put those lives in comparison and contrast to my own. These days I much prefer to read about the reality than the made up stories.

    As for the writing, I like telling my stories. It's interesting to recall events in my past and put those into written form. Sadly I've let my memoir blog go dormant for a while. I'm still thinking about writing a full length memoir, but to date I have not gotten far with that project.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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