WIN! A Paperblanks Journal for Your Most Beautiful Memories

paperblanksWriting a memoir requires writing down your memories.  A lot of that can be done in any utilitarian notebook, pad or Word document.  But some memories might stand out as more special than others.

Those, you might want to record in a prettier volume, taking time to savor the memory as you apply it to the page, maybe curling up on a blanket under your favorite willow tree on a river bank, or sinking into a comfy old Adirondack chair on the porch or in a sumptuous chaise by the fire.

For particular memories, you might want an extra-special journal.  Something gorgeous, from Paperblanks.

And now — lucky you! — you have the chance to win a Paperblanks journal from Write That Memoir Right Now.

We’re giving away three hardcover journals — one to each of three winners.

One recipient will receive the 7″ x 9″ “Brocaded Paper – Golden Fuchsia Ultra” journal;

one will receive the 5″ x 7″ “French Ornate – Violet 2011 Midi“,

and one will receive the 5″ x 7” “Lyon Florals — Filigree Floral Ivory Midi“.

Want to get a good look at these, and the other journals offered by Paperblanks?  Visit here.

So how can you enter to win? 

Like Write That Memoir Right Now on Facebook by midnight, EST on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.  (That means, go to our Facebook page and click the “Like” button.) NOTE: Only new “likes” made between April 9 – May 1, 2013 will qualify for the drawing.

Three winners will be selected at random.  Winners will be contacted via Facebook.  We must receive a reply including your shipping address no later than midnight EST on May 22, 2013.  If we don’t hear from you, another winner will be selected.

Good luck, authors!


Are All Memoirs Written in the “First Person”? Not Necessarily.

Are all memoirs written in first person? Not necessarily. When it comes to writing a memoir, why bother discussing point of view? After all, aren’t all memoirs written from the first person point of view?

Not necessarily.

In most cases, yes — memoir does tend to be written from the first person point of view.  This is the POV of “I”.  “I climbed onto the motorcycle.  I put my arms around Joe’s waist.  I gulped as the bike lurched forward.”  First person is all about the person telling the story – the narrator.

Here’s an example of a memoir written in first person.  This is the opening of The Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White by Shrilee Taylor Haizlip:

Sometimes I look at people and wonder if they are related to me.  I do this in public places and private spaces.  There I am, in airport terminals, and train stations, on ballroom floors and sandy beaches, studying people who might be my relatives. 

Not only does first person make sense for memoir, but it makes for the most intimate possible experience for the reader.  When you write in first person, you have the best chance of making your reader feel like they’re in the room with you – or sitting next to you in the cockpit, or huddled against you in the storm cellar.

Compare that to a story told from the third person point of view: “April climbed onto the motorcycle.  She put her arms around Joe’s waist.  She gulped as the bike lurched forward.”

With the third person point of view, you’re describing to the reader what’s happening in a scene.  You and the reader are watching events together, from the outside.  This point of view feels a degree or two removed from the action, and as a result, it can come across as less “personal” than first person.

It might seem like the third person point of view has no place in a memoir, but actually, some memoirists have used it creatively and with success.  I’ll give you an example.  In one scene in The Men in My Country by Marilyn Abildskov, she uses the third person point of view to recall a memory of herself as though she is watching a stranger in action.  Here’s a passage:

One night he is supposed to call at 6 P.M., which he does, but she doesn’t get the message until an hour later when she is immersed in a class at the ABC School, filling in for a teacher who failed to show.

            When she calls him at seven, there’s no answer at his place.  So she calls again at eight, then at nine, and again at ten.  Finally, before midnight, he answers his phone, sounding angry and maybe a little drunk.

            So you don’t want to get together? the woman asks, disappointed that he’s not as eager to see her as he is to see him.  All she wanted that night was to hear his voice.  Now that she has his voice, his voice in her ear, it isn’t enough.  Whatever she has, she will always want more.  The stakes go up.  This is her way of life.  Her way of love.  She wants to see him, even if it’s only for a few minutes, just to say goodnight.  And if she sees him?  She will want to touch him.  And then?

It’s important to note that most of Abildskov’s memoir is written in the first person, which is typical.  However, in this particular scene, she uses the third person.  Why?  It’s an act of artistry.  In my opinion, she’s doing it to help us sense how she now feels about that woman she’s remembering – as if she’s a different person.  Haven’t you ever looked back on something you did or said as a younger person and thought, Who was that girl/guy?  An earlier, less wise version of yourself can feel like a stranger.  If you’ve changed significantly in your life, recalling something you did in the past can almost feel like watching a play or a movie.  I believe Abildskov was using the third person as a device to help us understand how distanced she feels from that once desperate woman.

Then, there’s the god-like omniscient point of view.  I say “god-like” because it’s the only point of view that knows all and sees all, as only a god could.

If you’re writing in the omniscient point of view, you can describe what April was thinking as she sped away on the motorcycle.  You can also tell us what Joe was thinking when April put her arms around him. You know how the weather’s going to change a mile down the road, and you can hint at it to the reader using foreshadowing – even if the characters have no idea they’re headed for rain.

Writing in the omniscient point of view can feel empowering.  It can feel magical.  There are no limits.

wtmrn4On the downside, however, a reader of the omniscient point of view can sometimes struggle to make an emotional connection with any one character.  It’s a lonely business, being a god.  And when you share with your reader all that god-like knowledge, you risk imparting a sense of loneliness – a separateness from your characters.

Finally, there’s something called the second person point of view.  I’ve saved it for last because it’s the least commonly used POV – probably because it’s so difficult to pull off.  Second person is what I call the point of view of “you”.  Let me show you the second person in action first before I explain it:

You start the first day of school with such high expectations.  You think this’ll be the year when you finally break out, make your mark, achieve popularity.  You never set out to have the most miserable year of your life.

I just made up that passage.  It could’ve been an excerpt from a memoir, written by a real person about their real life; or, it could’ve been the voice of a make-believe character in a novel.  Either way, you’d still call it the second person POV.

Notice the use of “you”?  With second person, the narrator is talking about his or herself, but using the word “you”.  I know, sounds complicated.  Think of it this way: have you ever heard someone use second person in conversation?  At some point, you may have done it yourself.

Imagine you just came from the Department of Motor Vehicles.  You’re meeting your friend Lois for lunch.  You approach Lois who’s sitting waiting for you at a coffee shop table, and you say:

“Y’know, you can call ahead to the DMV and you can ask all the right questions.  You can find out exactly what you need to bring and who to see.  You can even get there early and wait in line at the front door.  But somehow, you always end up getting the run-around.”

You just spoke using the second person point of view.

Sure, you said “you” to Lois – but you were actually talking about your own experience, not hers.

Back to memoir.  Does anyone ever use the second person “you” point of view in memoir?  It’s rare, but it’s been done.  You might be hard-pressed to find an entire memoir written in second person (I can’t think of any), but you will occasionally spot it within a first person memoir.

Let’s open Marilyn Abildskov’s The Men in My Country again.  We’ve already seen how she used the third person point of view to help create a sense of distance between herself as the more experienced narrator, and herself at an earlier time.  Now, here’s an example from the same book in which Abildskov slips in a little second person POV:

At school they write messages on the bottom of composition books, little lost boats you have the urge to keep and save.  KEEP OO JAMMIN in all caps.  Or questions that sail in on paper scraps, tiny letters in bottles that sail across the sea.  Do Marilyn-sensei like Guns and Roses? A little, you lie. You believe in kindness over honesty.

Did you spot it?  The second person point of view?  The point of view of “you”?  It’s in the very last line of the passage:

A little, you lie. You believe in kindness over honesty.

You lie.  You believe in kindness over honesty.

The person who actually did the little-white-lying in this scene is the author.  But she says it conversationally, as if to suggest that this is what anyone would do – what you might do in the same situation.

So while chances are excellent that your memoir will be written in the first person point of view, there are certainly ways that other points of view can be useful.  I recommend starting out in the first person, and see if you lapse into another POV somewhere down the line.  Instead of automatically correcting it, you might step back and ask yourself if a small portion might actually be served by using another point of view in an artistic way.

To get one-on-one help with your memoir, request a coaching session by phone

Kim Brittingham is the author of Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGo/Blackstone, 2013) and Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (Random House, 2011). 

Featured Author: Deborah L. Parker

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Your journey.  The road you’re on.  Following your chosen path.

Do these metaphors sometimes describe your outlook on life’s evolving Parker Covercircumstances?  And we don’t embark on just one road, path or journey — we travel many, and in multiple directions, each unfolding maps that define our unique stories.

In Navigating Life’s Roadways, Deborah L. Parker segments her life’s roads, journeys and paths into narratives revealing an insightful and inspirational personal odyssey.

Parker’s chronicles begin in her rural hometown in Virginia during the 1960s Civil Rights era.  She steers you through the battles and triumphs of her college years, Army and private sector careers, and current ownership of a leadership training firm.

Parker PhotoIf you’re trying to decide what to do with the debris and gems we tend to pick up along life’s roadways, Parker guides you.  You will relate to the allegories of her treks through headwinds and tailwinds of family, career, fun, health and relationships.  Although your details and dilemmas may differ, Parker encourages you to push on.

Navigating Life’s Roadways is available in print and as an ebook.  Learn more here.

Announcing the Winners: Write That Memoir Right Now Audiobook on CD

Congratulations to Sarah P. and Nena B.!  They’ve each won an audiobook of Write That Memoir Right Now on CD!

Best of luck on your writing projects, ladies.

Another giveaway is coming this month.  Stay tuned — subscribe to the blog!  Follow the instructions at the top of the right-hand sidebar, titled “Follow This Blog Via E-mail”.


Interview with Stephanie Schroeder, author of Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide

Stephanie Schroeder is a queer feminist writer based in Brooklyn, New York.  She is an independent mental illness awareness activist and advocate for social and economic justice. Her political essays have been anthologized in the classic queer anthology That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation as well as Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage. Schroeder is a Contributing Editor at Curve Magazine. Her memoir, Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide, is her first book.

beautiful wreck coverOne of the things I’m really interested in as a memoirist myself is the process and documentation of memory. Did you have any of the clarity and self-reflection with which you write when you were actually experiencing particular situations, or only afterward when drafting of the book?

On the occasion I had a glimpse, a second, or maybe a minute, to reflect on a specific situation and think to myself “this is wrong” or “I don’t want to be in this position.” But, it took forever to get out of those terrible situations. Mostly because I didn’t have all the information — or any outside help. I was often isolated by my most intimate relationships, by design of others and for their own purposes. I think what you might be asking is how can memory ever be accurate or even how can any writer recreate the past through memoir.

I kept journals for the entire time span of my book and re-reading that documentation helped a lot in my writing process. I used a sprinkling of entries from one journal to locate folks in my world and in my mind at that time. I don’t think, though, that anyone needs prior documentation to write a memoir. Writers, storytellers and others know what happened to them and can recreate it on the page, including dialogue that actually took place. For me, this stuff was burned into my memory. My memory. It’s likely others I mentioned in Beautiful Wreck have different recollections of some of the same circumstances.

Your book is an autobiographical account. One of the things I know a lot of writers wrestle with is whether or not to fictionalize their stories. What made you choose memoir as the genre in which to tell your story?

I cannot imagine fictionalizing my life. With Beautiful Wreck, mainstream agents and publishers were already skeptical that my content was actually true. “All of this really happened to you?” they would ask incredulously. What charmed lives they must lead!

Meanwhile, I wanted my story to be what it was: raw, brutal, and darkly humorous, and I felt I could only do that with memoir. Plus, I hardly ever read fiction, so it’s not a genre I am at all familiar with. And, it paid off, the memoir part. I have received great reader feedback, folks write to me several time a week to let me know how much they enjoyed my book or how it has helped them rethink their own lives, relationships and health.

I received a particularly great review from Velvetpark editorial director, Marcie Bianco: Beautiful Wreck was one of the most compelling, smoothly written books I’ve read this year. And it is arguably one of the better queer autobio-memoirs out there. Period.”


Author Stephanie Schroeder. Photo by Maeghan Donohue.

Positive response from both readers and reviewers is the stuff that makes it worth opening myself up and putting my story out into the world.

Since you choose memoir as the genre in which to tell your story, were you at all afraid about what might happen with those whom you write about in your book?

I changed everyone’s name except for one — a public figure who has blurbed my book. I didn’t really think beyond the fact that I needed to change names only to avoid a hassle, and to protect the person in the story who is still a minor.

Since you mention the minor, Michael, the child you raised with your former partner and left when you left the relationship with her, how has reaction to that part of your story been, either in the media or in responses from readers?

Actually no one has ever said anything about him or the situation. No press has asked me about it and readers have said little, maybe something such as “how dare that bitch force you into parenthood,” but that’s it. However, that is the part I worried about most. Because women who don’t want children or “abandon” them–for lack of a better term–are seen as monsters.

Though, when Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, author of Hiroshima in the Morning, admitted that she “didn’t want to mother anymore” and gave custody of her kids to her ex-husband, it made headlines everywhere and she sold a ton of books!

I never wanted to parent, I was under the influence of an abusive person and was also mentally ill without a diagnosis or assistance to stabilize my moods or my life. And, I haven’t sold a ton of books because of it, by the way!

Were you ever afraid to tell people you were bipolar and when you did, how did they react? What are people’s reactions to you when you disclose now?

Of course, it’s terrifying to come out as mentally ill, especially in the workplace. I’ve had some bad workplace experiences where I was discriminated against in ways that I could not prove legally, but I know to be the case. I’m out as a feminist, I’ve been out as a lesbian since I was 19, but coming out as bipolar is another beast altogether.

I haven’t even discussed the book or my illness with my boss. She knows I’ve published a book, but I don’t know whether she has read it or what she thinks about me or the book if she has read it. I’m certainly not going to ask her. Everything about me is now hanging out in my book, on my website, on my Facebook page, etc. I cannot avoid people knowing, and don’t want to either, and yet I still do not always disclose to people who don’t already know. It’s just a really, really difficult thing to do because of the stigma surrounding mental illness.

You mention in the book the staggering cost of medication and therapy, and call out the U.S. healthcare system. Can you talk about that?

You ‘d better believe it, sister. All that yakking costs money, but it’s so totally worth it. Seriously, without psychotherapy with an excellent therapist (and there are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of really bad therapists!) I wouldn’t be alive, and I sure as hell wouldn’t be happy! Meds are the same story. I need them, they keep me stable, and I don’t really have many negative side effects like a lot of folks do. But, I also don’t have health insurance and the anti-psychotic I take, Abilify, costs $1,000 a month and that’s down from $1,400 just a few years ago. It’s going off patent soon, but it will take years for the price to drop substantially. I cannot get along without it. I tried for a while and felt myself falling back into the abyss. My psychiatrist used to give me samples, but newer drugs are on the market now and there are no more samples of Abilify for me. I’ve put out a call on social media for people with leftover Abilify to get in touch.  Several people have, and I have a stash, but it’s not going to last forever.

It’s a damn shame that in a rich country like ours we are, for the most part, denied healthcare unless we can afford it. And I can’t afford it most of the time. I am living paycheck-to- paycheck just like most people I know.

What are you working on now?

People keep asking if there is going to be more about me, another memoir, or something similar. I know my book is slim and there is a lot left out of my story, which spans more than 15 years, but the really important stuff is in the book. The rest are anecdotes: funny, horrible, beautiful, painful…. I can talk about hundreds of stories, incidents, scenes.  I wrote exactly what I did to convey the essence of my life specifically, but also to illustrate what severe depression and wild mania feel like and how they manifest. There will be no more books about me. I don’t want to be a “disease author”, I have other fish to fry.

Currently, I’m trying to leverage my book and my work as a mental illness awareness activist into a paid speaking career. I also have another book in mind. It’s about a friend of mine who died a few years ago. He was a noted illustrator who worked at Grove Press in the 50s and only illustrated for progressive publications. He lived for 30+ years as an ex-pat in Holland and I think a biography or appreciation about him would be extremely interesting.

To find out more about Beautiful Wreck: Sex. Lies & Suicide, go to You can buy it in paperback on Amazon as well as for Kindle or on for your Nook.

Don’t Write a Memoir for “Everybody” to Read

wtmrn2Are you planning on writing your memoir, hiding it in a locked drawer, and then burning it on your deathbed?  In that case, your memoir is definitely between you and you, and there’s no reason for you to read this article.

However, if you plan on letting anyone else read your finished memoir – whether it’s family members, or any stranger who happens to buy a copy – then this article is for you.

When you write a memoir (or anything else, for that matter), you’re writing to someone.  No, not in quite the same way you’d write a letter or an e-mail.  But there’s going to be someone on the other end of your message: your reader.

If you’re hoping to make a huge splash with your memoir, then you’ll obviously want your memoir to have many readers.  Those readers, collectively, are your audience.

Regardless of what you’re writing – whether it’s a magazine article, an academic essay, or a memoir —  it’s important to keep your readers in mind.

Write for a Specific Audience

There’s a good chance you’ve written for a specific audience before but didn’t realize it.

Here’s an example.  Say you’re on vacation in Mexico.  You promised postcards to everyone you know.  One day you’re reclining on a cushioned lounge beneath a grass umbrella, just ten feet from a gentle lick of turquoise surf.  You’re leaning your forearms on a book in your lap and shuffling a stack of glossy postcards.  You take the pen out from behind your ear and begin to write:

Dear Mom:

The resort is beautiful.  You’d love the lunch buffet.  It reminds me of the spread on your 60th birthday cruise. Weather has been perfect.  Miss you and can’t wait to see you.  I have a pretty souvenir for you!

Next, you choose a fresh card and begin scribbling a note to your best friend and former college roommate:

Hey Barfbag,

Too bad you’re missing this orgy of loose women and free-flowing booze, you loser.  Haven’t been sober since I landed!  See ya for Joe’s Superbowl party on the 12th.

And finally, you write that obligatory postcard to the office, which will inevitably be posted on the break room refrigerator for your boss and all to see:

Hi gang,

Enjoying a break in sunny Mexico.  Thanks to everyone who worked so hard on the Davis deal last month.  Hope you’re all enjoying those normal hours again!  Looking forward to sharing a box of spicy Mexican chocolate when I return. 

You wouldn’t write the same way – or mention all the same things – to everyone you wrote to.

It’s Your Tone

The tone you use in writing to your mother (affectionate, thoughtful) will be vastly different from the tone you use with your college buddy (informal, sarcastic).  That tone will change slightly again when you address your boss and co-workers (friendly, polite).

Likewise, you’ll choose different words to address different people.  For mom: “beautiful”, “perfect”, “pretty”.  For the best friend: “barfbag”, “orgy”, “loser”.  And finally, for the workplace: “enjoying”, “thanks”, “sharing”.

It’s What You Choose to Mention, Too.

Additionally, the content of your story will change to suit the reader.  Regardless of whom you speak to, you’re talking about the same trip to Mexico.  However, you’ll be selective about what you share about that experience, depending on whom you’re addressing.  You told your mom about things that would be important to her: “The resort is beautiful.” “You’d love the lunch buffet.”  “I miss you and can’t wait to see you.”  You leave out the part about the women and drinking.

But when it’s time to address your buddy, you don’t bother mentioning the weather or the lunch buffet – he wouldn’t care about that.  Instead, you mention “loose women” and “free-flowing booze,” plus the upcoming “Superbowl party on the 12th.

Your co-workers hear about “sunny Mexico,” and you promise to bring them some “spicy Mexican chocolate”.  You’re courteous and keep things professional.

That’s how you gear your writing toward a specific audience.

Why You Shouldn’t Write for “Everyone”

Now, if I ask you whom you want the audience for your memoir to be, you might say, “Everybody!  I want everyone in the world to buy my memoir.”  But that’s not going to happen.  You might sell your memoir to a lot of people – but who are they?  Or maybe more importantly, who do you want them to be?

When you write for an audience of “everyone”, you risk writing something dull, watered-down and uninteresting. Your writing will be more engaging if you write to a specific group of people. Knowing your audience has two big benefits.

First, it helps you write better.  Instead of writing a bland manuscript for “everyone,” you’ll feel freer to write in specifics.  Second, having a clear picture of your audience helps you develop a sales and marketing strategy.

Let me also make it clear that even if you have a specific audience in mind, that doesn’t mean someone outside of that audience won’t read and enjoy your book, but having a narrow focus in mind when you’re writing is crucial.

Decide ahead of time exactly to whom you’re writing.  You’ll write a better book.

At a reading/booksigning for Read My Hips at Barnes & Noble.

To get one-on-one help with your memoir, request a coaching session by phone

Kim Brittingham is the author of Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGo/Blackstone, 2013) and Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (Random House, 2011). 

Featured Author: Belinda Nicoll

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outofsyncIn 2001, when a couple leaves South Africa for a stay abroad, they land at JFK International Airport on September 11th, unprepared for the sight of smoke billowing from the Manhattan skyline, and the horror of a second plane exploding into the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

Over the next ten years, as their host country confronts fundamental change of its own, their marriage buckles under the strain of their disparate experiences. With the international economic crisis making it all but impossible for them to return to their country, they relocate from California to the North, the South, and the Midwest searching for a place they can call home.

Against the backdrop of uncertainties in post-apartheid South Africa, Belinda Nicoll unfolds a contemporary and thought-provoking account of post-9/11 America’s tantalizing hopes and unexpected disappointments. Out of Sync is her insightful memoir about marital endurance that promises to enthrall anyone, expatriate or not, who has ever felt at odds with themselves or the world.

Belinda Nicoll is originally from South Africa. She expatriated to the United States in 2001, became a resident in 2004, and has held dual citizenship since 2010. She and her husband, Bruce, love traveling and share a keen interest in cultural diversity. Their journeys and careers have taken them through large parts of Southern Africa and America, Europe, Ireland, Canada, the Middle East, Mexico, and to exotic islands such as Mauritius, Phuket, The Comores, St. Thomas, and St. John. Belinda holds a BA degree in the social sciences and an MFA in Creative Writing. She was a talent agent and drama coach before venturing into the advertising world as copywriter and client service director. These days, she works as a teacher of creative writing and will soon complete her first novel, an epic mystery set in South Africa and the U.S., spanning four generations and exploring concepts of shamanism, archaeology, and intergenerational shame.

Out of Sync is available from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Kalahari (S.A.) and of course, from Amazon.