Tips on Memoir, Revising and Editing
by Aimee Liu
THE ART OF THE MEMOIR
Here’s the art of memoir in a nutshell:
Through the story of the experience, we get to know the past you; through the voice and insights you bring to the writing of that experience, we get to know and care about the present you — and we learn what you’ve learned between past and present, which is really what your memoir is about.
REVISING FOR RELATIONSHIP
Most readers read for relationship, regardless of genre. They read to feel connected with the main characters themselves and to be surprised by the twists and turns in the relationships between the characters. The more complex and truly human the characters are, the more you’ll have to work with in those relationships — the more the characters will surprise you, and the more they will resonate with readers.
I would suggest reading through the manuscript with nothing but relationship in mind. Follow the interactions between the characters, what they want from each other, how they respond to each other, how they treat each other, and how they surprise each other and themselves. (Each character’s relationship with him or herself is also critical to your story.) If there are any beats, thoughts, choices, actions which do not feel authentic or believably human, then mark these for revision.
EDITING THE MINUTIAE
The final stage of revision mandates a close look at minutiae. If you’re not willing to take a microscope to your work during editing, you’re not a real writer. And you are a real writer. So the overriding challenge is to constantly ask yourself what the fine details are doing to or for the big picture. And for that, yes, you do occasionally need to step back and squint long and hard enough to see the big picture. (Artists do this when working on big canvases; if you squint the fine details blur, forcing you to look at the larger shapes and structure.)
You may not be able to see the big picture truly well until you’ve been able to step back from it for several weeks. But once you’ve gotten a good look at the whole, notice what’s not yet quite right, then move back in with your surgical tools and start pruning and stitching the small stuff to fix it.
*Ed. note: Aimee Liu is the author of 11 books, including the memoir Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders. She is a faculty member in Goddard’s MFA in Creative Writing program in Port Townsend, Wash.
**On February 2, 2014, Aimee Liu will be leading a craft workshop, “Characters on the Couch: A Creative Writing Workshop,” at Beyond Baroque in Venice, Calif. This workshop is free and open to the public. Click Here for more info and to RSVP.