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The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  839 ratings  ·  158 reviews
A recent study revealed that the Number 1 thing that baby boomers want to do in retirement is write a book....about themselves. It's not that every person has lived such a unique or dramatic life, but we inherently understand that writing memoir-whether it's a book, blog, or just a letter to a child-is the single greatest portal to self-examination.

While there have been
Paperback, 128 pages
Published June 9th 2011 by Grand Central Publishing
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Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. At an underwhelming 114 pages, she packed a punch, which meant that every word counted.

The two most poignant things I learned were 1) the difference between memoir and autobiography (and my, do I see now that there is a vast difference) and 2) memoir is all about angle. You can reuse the same life events and tell them a million different ways when you see them through different lenses of time (in the moment rather than when the dust has settled) point of view (the widow, her
Janette Fuller
Jun 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
"The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life", by Marion Roach Smith, provides original, humorous and effective methods to make the dream of writing your story a reality. The author encourages aspiring memoirists to "write on" with intent and purpose.

I always thought a memoir would be about Mrs. Smith advises the writer to ask the following question, "What is this about?" The writer must decide on a theme for the story and then use personal
George K. Ilsley
Saw this recommended somewhere; however, I just could not get into it. Found it to be a weird hybrid of personal anecdotes with writing advice. And by writing advice I mean such gems as "carry paper with you and write notes". And then more personal anecdotes.

Whatever rocks your boat.
Joy Weese Moll
Oct 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers of all genres
Recommended to Joy Weese by: Lori (Lara Britt) Sailiata
A slim volume, itself an example of memoir, that illustrates, teaches, and encourages the writing of memoir in all its variety of forms and functions.

Don’t look at The Memoir Project if you’re looking for writing exercises. Marion Roach Smith doesn’t recommend them. Instead she offers this invitation:

So let’s begin together, literally on the same page, and with a tacit agreement that from this moment on, we will write no exercises; we will write for real. With a goal. p. 7

Although, if you’re
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: free-choice
I was really disappointed in this book. I found it to be more memoir than a 'how to' book about writing memoir. The writing advice given was pretty generic and could be found anywhere. There were a few useful points I took from the book but these were almost exclusively in the last few pages of the book and could have easily been encapsulated in essay form. The book read to me mostly as a self-promotion of the author. But maybe that's just me; her voice and personality just didn't gel with me.
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I recommend The Memoir Project for anyone writing a memoir because the time investment is short - 111 pages - and you might just find the gem that makes your project work.

The book landed on in my To Read pile about 1 1/2 years ago, when I was interested in memoir writing. I later abandoned that idea in favour of writing fiction, so read the book quickly for general writing advice. From the start, the author expresses a opinion I hadn't heard before: avoid writing prompts and exercises, which
Harry Roger Williams III
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I give this five starts, which in the language of GoodReads means "It was amazing." What is amazing about Ms. Smith's accomplishment is that she has fit about 400 pages of information and ideas and inspiration into a mere 114 pages. I read some of it on the Red Line going to the State House or Boston Public Library, laughing out loud or exclaming "Wow!" enough to make my fellow passengers wonder, "What's with this guy?" I won't try to summarize it, I'll just wholeheartedly recommend this - not ...more
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir-writing
Loved this book and the voice Roach has in it. While this subtitle calls itself "non-standard," the advice contained within is what you'll hear in college courses. She has great delivery and this a great volume of compacted advice. It may be that the newbie writer might need some practice for her condemned "writing prompts" to get the juices flowing.

I read this in prep for a memoir writing workshop I'm teaching in April. This book has really excited me about working with memoir writers!
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Best book I've read to date on memoir writing. In just over 100 pages Marion Roach Smith informs, guides, challenges and encourages anyone who wants to start writing or continue writing any form of memoir or any writing at all. She also has a web-site filled with information. Gotta go write now!!
Anne Bogel
Apr 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed The Memoir Project both for its entertainment value and for its dead-practical tips on writing nonfiction well. This slim volume (114 pages) is well worth spending an afternoon on.
Leslie Reese
Dec 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: about-writing
More like 3.5 stars. I liked this book but not as much as I liked Louise DeSalvo's The Art of Slow Writing or Walter Mosley's This Is The Year You Write Your Novel.

In this short book with a long title, Marion Roach Smith is all "brass-tacks"---is that the right phrase to describe her no-nonsense, almost military approach to memoir-writing? Her basic guidelines are these:
*writing memoir is about telling the truth;
*every page must drive one single story forward; and
*just because something
Jan 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Shari Fox, Lorie Eckert
Shelves: keepers
I found this book to be one of the most helpful volumes on the craft of writing nonfiction that I have come across. While it concentrates on memoir, Ms. Smith's advice and suggestions are transferable to almost any type of creative nonfiction. I'll bet fiction writers can find some food for thought and tools for writing improvement here, as well. I'd recommend this highly for anyone interested in writing nonfiction, and even more highly for aspiring memoirists. Don't borrow it. Buy it. You'll ...more
Aug 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
I love memoirs when they're done well. They are so seldom done well. I think the reason for that is summed up by Smith when she says "...I'm really interested in someone's sniveling only if it somehow elevates my own." Exactly. When I read I want to read something that matters to me regardless of my lack of real-life connection to the author. My own writing sometimes gets frozen because I'm afraid I can't reach across that divide. This short book offers the tools to get past that and other ...more
I listened to interviews with this author and read her blog so when I saw this volume, I had to have it. I hoped for more specific lessons. Instead, the book offered a somewhat entertaining (although not always) account of her writing history. It's a memoir about how she writes memoir. Some of the information is useful, but I don't understand her beef with writing prompts. Still, the book is helpful, especially the final chapters and was definitely worth the short time it took to read it.
Christy Woolum
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite book on writing memoir... and I have read many. Roach Smith takes everyday ideas and demonstrates how to use those in writing memoir. Must read for all writers.
Kathi  Gowsell
Jun 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Best book on writing creative non-ficttion that I've read.
Katie Dale
Oct 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Marion gave good examples of her writing and taught the lessons throughout the book with her examples. I got a lot out of the book and could go back to read it over and get more. Short and sweet.
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I can't believe how amazing this book was. I seriously went into it with curiosity and low expectations. Why? Because there are so many bad books on writing out in the world. But why read this one? Probably due to the marvel that is cookies and advertising. It caught my eye somewhere, maybe it was in a blog post, or maybe it was a behavioral ad on some website somewhere. I bought the book and there it sat on my Kindle app. Sitting on my couch thinking to myself, "I'm between books, why not try ...more
Lynda Allison
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I originally purchased The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life because I was intrigued by Marion Smith's criticism of the use of writing exercises when I personally found them helpful to my writing process. She bases her criticism on the complaints of her students and suggests that they discard them in favour of writing with intent. I don't see these as unconnected. Purposeful exercises can help writers mine for precious gems that convey truth the way they ...more
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am taking a memoir writing class, and so like everything else I've done in my life, I research as much as I can about it before taking the first step. This slim book, only 112 pages, is one of "three top-notch books" recommended by Isidra Mencos. Funny in many places, honest on every page, the book provides as much guidance about living a life as it does about writing. Marion Roach Smith's over arching message (after recommending you throw out all the writing prompts, practice writing ...more
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! The title didn’t exactly grab me (not the current version, nor the one under which the book was previously published), but what’s inside the covers is 100% worthwhile reading, whether you intend to write a memoir or not. Yes, there’s how-to advice for writers, but the wit and stories (all brief and to the point) make this an enjoyable read as well. Unlike other books on writing that I’ve rated highly but am unlikely to re-read, this one is short enough (and engaging enough) ...more
Kim Sasso
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
"Memoir Project" makes it sound more interesting than I found it to be, but that's probably because I read a lot of Writing magazines in my twenties and collected composition textbooks well into my thirties. For the most part, Smith's advice is nothing new, even though she effectively slants it to the personal essay, blog, or memoir. This book could be useful to the young writer but at my age, writing just for my own personal sanity, I am looking for things that spark my creativity and fire my ...more
kartik narayanan
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read the full review on my blog

Other girls wanted to be veterinarians, to marry rich, to be Rockettes. From that moment on, what I wanted most was a place of my own in the Dewey decimal system.

What is the book about?

“The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life ” is written by Marion Roach Smith, a journalist , accomplished author of many blog posts, articles and books and the teacher of a renowned class on writing. Her website, which is
Ronna Jevne & Harold Martin
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the "do it" book of memoir writing. The author gives us permission to just get writing avoiding the "insulting tasks" of "generic writing exercises and prefabricated prompts". At the same time as honouring the serious work of writing memoir, she is direct in her number 3 rule that "just because it happened doesn't make it interesting. Rule number 1 is "tell the truth", yet the author is sensitive about "do no harm". There is, for me, a warmth in the writing - a sense that the author has ...more
Suzy Taylor
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to write memoir well
I've been following Marion Roach Smith for about a year, but I didn't start reading her blog regularly until about a month ago, when I decided that the genre of the nonfiction book I've been struggling to finish should be memoir.

Roach Smith is a great teacher of memoir, and, even though I'm starting almost completely from scratch on my book (pretty much gutting it and starting over at Chapter 1), I'm encouraged because I know that the author will teach me what to do.

I always appreciate books
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great reference book for memoirists.

I've read many books on writing but somehow couldn't resonate with most of them, possibly because they were too wordy, or didn't offer practical, doable tips that can actually propel you forward with your writing.

Having come across Marion's site, I was amazed at the amount of information she freely shares. Some of the information is in this book.

The information can be used for any genre.

With formulas and real life examples on how to write with intent, this
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a strange, fascinating little book. It certainly taught me how to be a better writer, but I would be hard pressed to neatly explain the lessons of the book. It feels terribly disjointed and doesn't seem to have any specific rhyme or reason to its layout. Still, it works and works well. The book teaches by example and includes numerous excerpts from the author's work. Even if you aren't interested in writing about yourself, the book may be worthwhile just to read all these various ...more
Roozbeh Daneshvar
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was about writing memoirs and the author showed in action what it means to write an exceptionally good one. The sample memoirs of her life she wrote here and there were truly well crafted to the point that made this book an engaging, amusing and touching book for me.

This was the first time I understood what a good memoir means and how it should be developed. I would suggest it to anyone who wants to write a memoir or even to whomever wants to add a new and fresh perspective on their
Kate Mercier
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Loved it. Very practical and no-BS. I’ve been reading tons of books about writing memoir and they’re all such a slog! This is short and direct and clear, all helpful things when what I really want to be doing is writing instead of reading about writing. Her own snippets of memoir interspersed throughout were enjoyable but more than that, they were instructive. She was showing us, not telling us, how to do it. Great read, highly recommend.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Library books come and go in my household. Sometimes only one, sometimes like this week I have over chosen and there’s a stack of seven on my reading bench next to my new stiff back burgundy paisley reading chair. A week doesn’t go by where I don’t visit this public institution. Many only get the attention of one or two chapters. Once in a while one stands out. For this writing, this one not only stands out but wants me to scream its existence to the world. >b<>i/b<>/i< by ...more
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Writing memoir after reading The Memoir Project 2 12 Jul 17, 2011 06:53PM  

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