Living to Tell the Tale: A Guide to Writing Memoir

Overview

"Writing is a second chance at life," writes Jane McDonnell. "I think all writing constitutes an effort to establish our own meaningfulness, even in the midst of sadness and disappointment."

In Living to Tell the Tale, McDonnell draws on this impulse, as well as on her own experiences as a writer and teacher of memoir, to give us what should become the definitive book on writing "crisis memoirs" and other kinds of personal narrative. She provides specific techniques and advice to help the writer discover his or ...

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Overview

"Writing is a second chance at life," writes Jane McDonnell. "I think all writing constitutes an effort to establish our own meaningfulness, even in the midst of sadness and disappointment."

In Living to Tell the Tale, McDonnell draws on this impulse, as well as on her own experiences as a writer and teacher of memoir, to give us what should become the definitive book on writing "crisis memoirs" and other kinds of personal narrative. She provides specific techniques and advice to help the writer discover his or her inner voice, recognize—and then silence—the inner censor, begin a narrative, and develop it with such aids as photographs and documents.

Citing many landmark works such as Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior and Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, as well as unpublished writings, McDonnell shows how writers can recreate past experiences through memories, and imaginatively reshape material into the story that needs to be told. Each chapter concludes with exercises to help the writer grapple with particular problems, such as trying to write about experiences that are only partly recalled.

McDonnell also offers a list of recommended reading.

• Memoirs, such as Mary Karr's The Liars' Club (Penguin) have hit bestseller lists nationwide during the past year, and are of great interest to aspiring writers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140265309
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.88 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Taylor McDonnell teaches a writing and reading course on memoir at Carleton College and has also taught at The Loft in Minneapolis. She is the author of News from the Border: A Mother's Memoir of Her Autistic Son.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Vivian Gornick
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Necessary Fictions of the Self
1. Back Talk: Getting Started by Talking Back to Your Inner Censors
2. "Spots of Time": Learning to Remember
3. "Just Make It Up, Then See If It Is True": Imagination Coming to the Aid of Memory
4. Using Photographs and Other Documentary Evidence
5. A Story in Search of Its Subject: How to Find Your Plot
6. The Self in the Story: Finding Your Voice
7. To Tell or Not to Tell: Ethical Considerations in Writing a Memoir
Recommended Reading

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2005

    A simple and clear guide for the first-time memoirist

    I bought this book for a friend who has a story to tell that he wants to tell through me. I read it first, and as a writer, I learned about a new form of writing. More important, I found many tips that will make me not just a scribe but also a coach. McDonnell's book has shown me how to help my friend find the theme of his story and determine what belongs and what isn't needed; what to do when there are gaps in memory, i.e., exercises to trigger memories and describe them with all the senses; how to discover his own distinct voice; and ultimately, how to augment fact with imagination (and know there is nothing dishonest about this approach). This is not a step-by-step guide; it is a thoughtful and perceptive overview of what keeps us from writing down our stories and how to get past those blocks to deliver honest and meaningful accounts of the lives we have lived so far.

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