Definition of Memoir

The other night, my partner said, ‘The thing I like about Malcolm Gladwell is that he notices elements of his life and sees connections that pull them together in a way that makes sense of the world.’

‘Say that again!’ I cried.

I wrote while he repeated, trying not to put too much pressure on the poor man’s memory. We workshopped for a while then, when I thought it was safe to do so, I exclaimed, ‘I think you’ve just described memoir!’

Did he?

Let’s unpack it…

Elements of life

In memoir, elements are often the most vibrant, exhausting, awful, joyful, bizarre, confronting, ridiculous, shameful, proud [add here] experiences of the writers’ life. We write about events that smack us in the face and say, ‘Learn this, fool!’ Generally, the humdrum, the everyday, if it’s there at all, has to be blended carefully into the drama to make it through the drafts. The elements have to be interesting, but what makes them interesting is the connections.

Explores connections

To be interesting these elements can’t just be a list of anecdotes. We learn about ourselves through consequences for our actions, understanding cause and effect, joining the dots. We can do this vicariously, via reading a skilfully woven memoir.

Pulls connections together

By observing skilled writers (of any genre) pull connections together, we intimately experience a new mathematics – the idea that 2 + 2 may not necessarily equal 4. Resonant writing helps us dig underneath our assumptions and, in the privacy of our own bodies, consider our truths.

Makes sense of the world

Here we see the magic interface between the writer, the reader and the story. Through writing about specific elements of life and making personal connections between these elements, the writer tells a unique story that speaks to a specific audience needing that particular wisdom at that moment.

Elements of life. Connection. Making sense … perhaps this is why memoir works for those readers prepared to go there?

Ann Bolch, A Story To Tell,

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