Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Community News Network

January 10, 2013

Slate: How to write a memoir

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

The writer does not have to take on huge dramatic subjects to engage the reader's interest, though there is of course a natural interest in huge important subjects (See Christopher Hitchens' excellent "Mortality," or Harold Brodkey's "This Wild Darkness.") A brilliant or resourceful writer like Gary Shteyngart can entertain his reader with a subject as inherently plotless and unexciting as a plane delay. The subject, with apologies to hopeful suffering young writers, doesn't have to be inherently extreme.

4. In fact, even if your subject is extreme or shocking, it won't be interesting in any but the most prurient terms, unless it is written well, and surprisingly. For instance, the novelist Darin Strauss' "Half a Life" is an excellent reflection on his experience of killing a girl in a car accident in high school. But it is excellent because it is controlled, because the details are as carefully selected, the pacing as carefully moderated as that of any novel. The reason the book is so good is that he manages to tell the reader something she doesn't know or can't imagine; he gets beyond the generic, the cliché, which a surprising number of published personal writers never do. There is one moment when the teen-age Darin, on the roadside after the accident, in shock, leans down on the ground, with his head in his hands, like an Olympic athlete overcome with emotion, to impress some pretty girls who happen to be standing there too. His inclusion of vivid, unsettling, surprising moments like this lifts the book to its higher plane of observation, its position as art rather than sheer confession.

5.The standards of craft in personal writing should not be lower than in fiction. There is no reason why something true should be sloppily or boringly written. Many writers seem to feel that they are "expressing themselves" if they just get their feelings down on the page, but expressing yourself is not enough. Toward this point, Joan Didion, one of the most admired personal writers in American prose, said this extraordinary thing in a Paris Review interview: "When I am working on a book, I constantly retype my own sentences. Every day I go back to page one and just retype what I have. It gets me into a rhythm. Once I get over maybe a hundred pages, I won't go back to page one, but I might go back to page fifty-five or twenty, even. But then every once in a while I feel the need to go to page one again and start rewriting. At the end of the day, I mark up the pages I've done — pages or page — all the way back to page one." She is not, in other words, dashing things off. She is not mistaking writing for therapy — the salient difference between the page and a therapist's office being that not every thought in your head, every tiny moment of heartbreak, every fleeting fantasy or disappointment, is interesting to your reader.

Roiphe, a journalism professor at New York University, is the author most recently of "Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages," and the forthcoming "In Praise of Messy Lives."

Text Only
Community News Network
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
AP Video
Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites
Poll

Last weekend (July 12) the Goshen Parks Department held its Kid’s Try-athlon to promote childhood fitness and this week (July 18) the new bicycle trail is open to the fairgrounds in Goshen, offering residents a healthy way to get to the annual agriculture exposition. Have you joined the local fitness movement?

Yes, I work at eating healthy and exercising
No, I am happy with my fitness level
Changing my diet and exercise frequency is a work in progress
     View Results