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Writing the Memoir

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  598 ratings  ·  65 reviews
Since Writing the Memoir came out in early 1997 it has sold roughly 80,000 copies and is consistently praised as "the best book on memoir out there." It is thought-provoking, explanatory, and practical: each chapter ends with writing exercises. It covers everything from questions of truth and ethics to questions of craft and the crucial retrospective voice. An appendix pro ...more
Paperback, 187 pages
Published February 1st 2002 by Eighth Mountain Press - The Eighth Mountain Press (first published 1996)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I have been reading a bunch of books on writing a memoir, I think its because I would like to try writing my long story with music, and I´ve gone through a few. This one would be one of my favourites, it is really helpful, concrete, and has some great explanations. Very recommended.
Meghan Pinson
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Clear, practical, and useful. Recommended for writers of memoir and novelists writing in first person.
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Katy S.
I decided to get serious about writing a memoir a few months ago. It's been a long time coming, but I feel now is the time. As usual, I research the best of the best of books before buying them. I would rather take the time to study a book and its author than waste time reading one that won't benefit me in some way. I'm so glad I did so with this book. The author did a fine job explaining the memoir and how to effectively write one.

I found most helpful the topics of: voice, legal issues, and how
Andy Oram
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
Even though I'm a professional writer, I got insights from Barrington that I think will greatly improve the memoir I'm writing. I think there's a lot here for writers at all levels of experience, and I hope the book will encourage people with limited writing experience to get started on a memoir.

Barrington's topics include selecting your material, setting a scene, fleshing out descriptions by using your senses and historical events, moving smoothly back and forth through time--all ways to bring
Caitlin Hicks
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've had this book for a long time, and it's a wonderful guide for those who want to begin writing their story and /or stories; it's practical and deals with many of the issues writers encounter in trying to tell non-fiction. I'm facilitating a workshop called 'What's Your Story?' and the issues of what to tell, how to dig for the truth, how to make the decisions about what you will tell with family and personal relationships at stake -- these are discussed so that the reader can navigate the la ...more
Feb 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Every writer should read this book. It will put an end to your creative blocks and help you remove the mental obstacles that are keeping you from telling your story, and we all have them. It also contains very practical advice about structure, memoir form and how to weave between flashbacks and the present day without confusing the heck out of your reader. I read it in one day and it'll help me for years.
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-life
I encourage life writing and finally got around to reading this book! Although it is older (2002), it's still an excellent guide to writing memoir. Chapters cover the important basics, give examples, and end with exercises to help us think deeper about our writing or try different techniques - much more helpful than the usual writing prompts other guides tend to give. This book is generally meant for people who want to publish and sell as it teaches craft and brings up important considerations. ...more
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Writing books can be boring, but this one had some good writing ideas at the end of chapters.
Kirsty Grant
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in a couple of days and found it to be incredibly helpful. I intend on writing memoir for my dissertation in creative writing next semester at university and was looking for some guidelines and tools to assist me, this book has it all. Barrington takes the reader step by step through the process of memoir writing and highlights the do's and dont's in each informative chapter. Her greatest piece of advice is to read, read, read as many memoirs as possible prior to the task. This ...more
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: free-choice
As a beginner writer I found this book to be a great read. The author offers lots of helpful pointers and practical advice on writing memoir in a concise and straightforward manner. Along the way the author references her own writing as well as that of others and each chapter ends with some writing exercises (although there is no necessity for the reader to do these). Having read a few other books about writing memoir, I especially noticed and appreciated the lack of author ego in this one by co ...more
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Filled with excerpts from others' memoirs and practical suggestions about getting started and keeping with it, Judith Barrington's guide left me wanting to read her memoir, "Lifesaving," as soon as I can locate it. If you never learned verb tenses, or forgotten about metaphor, Barrington brushes up your skills. Her detailed, progressive writing exercises at the end of each chapter frame your thinking about writing even if you decide not to do them. I liked her handling of ethical issues and hope ...more
Brandi Amara
Jun 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: memoir writers
i skimmed this book. It was worth it for these two chapters alone:

FIVE: Scene, Summary, and Musing
SIX: Moving Around Time

Everything else was was meh.

Grab the book from the library and dig into to the two chapters above. You'll learn a lot.
Sarah Carr
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a delightful exploration of memoir writing! After my misstep with my last book about memoir writing this was a breath of fresh air. Barrington's writing is crisp and pointed, and while she uses illustrative examples they are just enough to prove her point and no more. Her writing style is approachable and made me want to read more of her writing. The book is filled with practical writing exercises, and a very useful section about legal liabilities of memoir.
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A short but very nicely written book about writing memoirs. I read this as part of a creative writing course that I took with an eye toward writing some memoirs of my own. The advice provided by Barrington is clear and straightforward, yet also insightful.
Jen Grogan
Jun 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: editing-books
I don't write memoirs myself, but I found this to be a clear and useful writing guide in general, and a good look at an interesting genre.
Hannah Comerford
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: someone just starting to write memoir.
This was helpful in that it gave great writing prompts and helped motivate me in my writing. However, it felt a little basic for where I'm at, personally.
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic guide for those who want to write and craft their own stories
Mina Widding
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good and thorough advice, particularly like that it refers (and defines) only the memoir as such, and also very good writing excercises, and writing group guidelines.
Joyce Lefler
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: how-to-write
This was one of my reference books I used to research what makes a memoir. It is very good but not my favorite.
Dede Fox
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is one I've read multiple times. It's the best resource I've found as a creative writing instructor and writer of memoir.
Sep 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
This was a good book
Melynda DeCarlo
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Really appreciated the suggestions for writing prompts and the conversation around voice and structure.
Margaret Adams
Read for a class. A well-organized explication of the basics.
Martha McSweeney
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a must for those writing a memoir.
Sarah Joyce Bryant
Aug 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book covers the basics of writing memoir. The first section includes “teaching boxes” that are great for quick reference when writing. Topics in these boxes include voice, first person, and narrative. The book also includes suggestions for writing at the end of each chapter which are a great way to get your creative mind flowing and to practice what Barrington discusses in each chapter. Barrington addresses what memoir is; the all-consuming question many memoir writers obsess over: Who Care ...more
Sheri Fresonke Harper
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
What I most like about this book is it answers the question, why write a memoir. Judith Barrington offers many examples of creative uses of the memoir genre in aid of this question. She also offers good advice about how to get started via specific exercises that target the major features of the memoir including:
- thoughtful evaluation of a situation
- the role of time
- how to focus the structure of a memoir based on theme
- voice and narrative style.
I'm a beginner to the memoir so I find this very
Ebby Tollinchi
Jan 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Excellent book with relevant advice on how to tackle the emotional and technical aspects of writing one's life story. Her examples are useful and the layout of the book is easy on the eyes. Her writing style and voice are forthright but not forceful; she encourages the reader to look within him/herself to find their own way while providing structure one might find in a writing course. Very good chapter on finding truth in memoir, as well. I found it to be one of the better books on memoir writin ...more
Jul 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I had heard a couple different people recommend this book as a good aid in creative nonfiction writing. I recently picked it up from the library with the hopes of flipping through it to gain some practical writing advice. I ended up reading the book straight through from cover to cover. The information was helpful, and easy to understand. It’s probably repeat information for anyone who has studied writing, but for beginners like myself, it’s a great book!
Bea Alden
Aug 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
A very helpful text on how to go about writing a memoir. Because it had been a while since I had done any serious writing, I decided to use Barrington's advice to "oil the hinges." I studied each chapter step by step, doing every recommended exercise, before I settled down to write my South African memoir, LIONGOLD.
Aug 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
Another Racine library book. Good reading, useful advice. Exercises were basic and obvious.
Her POV is lesbian, but that doesn't influence the book much. I learned a lot about writing.
Will use my notes for further reference. Quite sufficient. The book encouraged me to write in the memoir style.
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“A word of warning here. The events as you remember them will never be the same in your memory once you have turned them into a memoir. For years I have worried that if I turn all of my life into literature, I won't have any real life left - just stories about it. And it is a realistic concern: it does happen like that. I am no longer sure I remember how it felt to be twenty and living in Spain after my parents died; my book about it stands now between me and my memories. When I try to think about that time, what comes to mind most readily is what I wrote.” 13 likes
“If you want help in starting to write memoirs, you don't want to fall into the clutches of a famous writer who has been hired to teach at a writing workshop solely because of his name's ability to attract students, rather than because of any teaching skill. You should not have to grapple with someone who secretly thinks you should be writing about his life rather than your own.” 8 likes
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