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Your Life as Story: Discovering the "new Autobiography" and Writing Memoir as Literature
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Your Life as Story: Discovering the "new Autobiography" and Writing Memoir as Literature

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  310 ratings  ·  36 reviews
In Your Life As Story, autobiography expert Tristine Rainer explains how we can all find the important messages in our lives. Like Mary Karr or Frank McCourt, we can shape those stories into dramatic narratives that are compelling to others. Blending literary scholarship with practical coaching, Rainer shares her remarkable techniques for finding the essentials of story st ...more
Paperback, 353 pages
Published April 13th 1998 by Tarcherperigee (first published 1997)
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Dec 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir-writing
It is a bit rare these days that I rate a book as amazing. This one is for me. I began reading this book because I’m writing my master’s thesis on spiritual memoirs and I figured that reading a book about how to write “memoir as literature” would be a good idea since it might give me a jump start on analysis. In the back of my mind I’ve long had the idea to write a memoir about my dearest brother who was like a father to me. Well, this will be my guidebook when that time comes. Rainer’s lifelong ...more
May 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing

If you’re writing a Memoir, Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer is for you. If you’re writing fiction, this book has much to offer. If you want to examine a part of your life, or to understand something you’ve experienced, even if you are not a writer, use this book as a guide and try your hand at writing. You may well surprise yourself!
Jules Vilmur
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers
Shelves: reference
Last week, I was scouring the library for resource books on Memoir. I didn't come up with much beyond the handful I'd already dug through, but later the same night, while re-shelving my own books in our new office, I tripped over "Your Life As Story".

It's one of the books I bought while researching my thesis on Therapeutic Writing a decade ago and the spine is familiar as any other on my shelf, but I haven't cracked it since September of 2002. I picked up the book, flipped through it and laughed
Lisa McKenzie
Aug 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Alison Cummings, Karen Leh
Recommended to Lisa by: Martha Brammer
I have always been skeptical of instructional writing manuals, with the notable exception Stunk and White's definitive work, The Elements of Style. Writing is not a mechanical act, and literature resists most nuts and bolts descriptions. Until now. Your Life as Story is proving to be an exhaustive exploration of the evolution of contemporary memoir. Tristine Rainer dissects the defining narrative elements of a wide range of enduring literary achievements with the clarity of a archeologist wieldi ...more
Jonna Higgins-Freese
This is one of the best single books available on how to write a memoir. It really focuses on the need to find the story in the events, and shape the narrative. The explanation of the elements of story is the clearest thing I have ever read on that topic. The writing is engaging, and she gives great examples.
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Sep 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing

Everybody has a story to tell and through that we come to know what our life means. From the beginning the author favors the description of the new autobiography, here fiction and reality inter-mingle and we proceed to read our life as if it were a dream imaginatively reshaped. The mystery and complexity of literature are interwoven in the writing of our life as New Autobiography. We don't have to look too far in the past, but what are our modern myths? Starting with chapter 3, the author encour
Kristina Seleshanko
Aug 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Essential reading for the memoir or autobiography writer, and useful for novelists, too. The first chapter or two is dry, and I was worried the book would be too academic, but it turned out perfectly practical. I've never read such a great explanation of good story structure (the acts). Plus, there's great advice on "waking up" your memories and powers of observation, writing "what you dare not say," theme, jumping through time, ethical and legal concerns, and more.
Maria Ramos
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A great writing book, no matter if you are writing fiction or non-fiction. Though the book is geared towards people writing memoir, the section on how to "slice" your life for memoir writing gave me real insight into the narrative arc for fiction, and that the choice of what time period in your character's life that your novel will cover is not arbitrary--it is related to the theme. Rainer is a generous, grounded writer, and offers many true life examples. A very helpful book.
Maria Keckler
Sep 15, 2012 is currently reading it
Just getting started and enjoying it... Rainer is talking about the concepts Don Miller has synthesized and popularized in his Storyline book and conference. She delves deeper, particularly bringing into focus the cognitive and psychological research findings that support that seeing our life in the context of story structure and writing about it has the power to bring healing at many levels...

I'll share more when I'm done.
Kevin Parham
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. A good read with easy-to-understand concepts about writing autobiography and memoir. The approachable style and frankness with which the material is presented makes you feel as if you're right there in the author's Literature class.

Recommended reading for any aspiring author of memoir.

Sylvia Valevicius
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent reference book for people whose intention it is to write a memoir or autobiography. Lots of good examples from other works. I was happy to recognize and relate to many of the writers to which Ms. Rainer refers.

No even sure if I finished it all, but I jump here and there to parts that interest me. Eventually, I'm sure it will be the entire book.

Worthwhile investment!
Davy Kent
Jul 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: editing-writing
As a resource, it's good. It does dawdle quite a bit, though, and it takes its time getting to the point. It's half resource, half personal story. The resource part is solid and I did not come across anything objectionable. The personal stories I could have done without, but they weren't exactly bad. They were simply unnecessary for me.
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, inspiration, memoir
Despite the title (she does have a thing for the word New and she wants to drive it home!) this was a good book. I do cringe every time I see the word "new" capitalized in the text. It makes me almost jump every time I see it. Oh, there it is again. Goodness.

But seriously, if you plan to write an autobiography (whether old or new. or heck, even ancient, archaic, current, or contemporary!) you'll get some good tips here. I think her book on Modern Diary-writing was her best, though. (Oh, okay, Th
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-books
I found this book very helpful in making sense of the crazy path that is writing a memoir. She talks about the shape of a story and gives many techniques for findin the story within the facts and anecdotes of your life. One of my favorite craft books!
Sep 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: memoirists
I was afraid it would be cheesy or new-age-y, but I'm actually finding it very helpful. She has a talent for putting things that I know subconsciously into a very concrete, usable expression.
Sep 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
I'm learning from this book how to tell stories in a more compelling way. Everyone who wants to write their life's stories (and that should be everyone) should read this.
sarah  morgan
Feb 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
If only I could I'd give this book six stars, I would. It is packed with good advice on writing memoir. I'll be keeping this in my reference library for years to come.
Aug 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I used this book to write a memoir and it was extremely helpful. I highly recommend it for anyone writing an autobiography or memoir!
Melanie Griffin
excellent book on writing - any kind, but focus on memoir. I'm going to read it again, and this time I'll do the exercises : -)
Grace Peterson
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
EXCELLENT. This book provided the tools I needed to write my memoir. I highly recommend it to anyone who has questions about how to go about the process.
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Full of suggestions. I will use it often as a reference book.
Nicole Hardina
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An excellent companion when striving to making meaning of life by writing narrative nonfiction.
Sara Monk
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
What an excellent resource for shaping a memoir! This book is full of exercises to assist you in identifying, outlining and writing your story. Even better, the book is an inspirational read that will inspire you to write your book even when you find yourself stuck or in fear of writing.

What I loved most is the concept of writing a shitty first draft. No creative endeavours ever come out the way you see them in your mind on the first draft. All you need to do is begin writing - get the words on
Nov 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
Save yourself the trouble: do not buy this book. Reading widely in preparation for writing a memoir, I read Mary Karr's "Memoir as Art," (mostly good, see my review). She mentioned this book, so I thought I'd read it as well. It reeks of an atmosphere of Eighties chic: "Lives of the Rich and Famous," et all. I read the first fifty pages and decided to throw it away.
Daniel Hiland
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Still the best book on memoir that I've ever read.
Sharlyn Zimmerman-Tollefson
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. So much knowledge with writing exercises to practice your writing. Working on my first book, hoping it will help me hone my skills.
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
Meh. I read this book for a class. While it did occasionally have some good tips, it was kind of a rambling book. Tristine Rainer seemed to feel the need to constantly explain herself to the reader, or apologize to the reader, which got annoying pretty quickly. It also felt like she believes her book has a lot more influence than it does; saying things like "It's my job to give you your voice" is pretty grating for any writer to read. I have my voice, thank you. I don't need or want your assista ...more
A. Catherine Noon
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I love Rainer's The New Diary, and when I started getting the itch to work on my autobiography, I decided to look around for books that talked about how to do one. I found this book and have devoured it.

Her approach is friendly and scholarly at the same time. She takes you through the history of the form through to how to write your own without boring the hell out of the reader - no mean feat.

Highly recommended.
Sep 22, 2008 rated it liked it
I'm only a few chapters in on this book but so far it's excellent. I just finished an exercise that had me take a momentous event in my life and turn it into a short fairytale. The compressed format forced me to be short on description and strong on plot points. I'm looking forward to reading more.
This book sounded good, but after reading about half of it, I wasn't feeling inspired. I may turn back to this to read some of the later chapters, but I already know what I want to write, and pretty much how I want to write it.
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Tristine Rainer, Ph.D, is a pioneer in the fields of contemporary journal writing and narrative autobiography. Her book The New Diary, how to use a journal for self-guidance and expanded creativity has sold over 200,000 copies and has been used as a text in university Psychology and Occupational Therapy courses, although her degree was in English Lit. After a quarter of a century in print The New ...more

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