Home » On Memoir Writing » The Autobiography – from dull to amazing!

The Autobiography – from dull to amazing!

Reading such memoirs as The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls , Eat, Pray, Love By Elizabeth Gilbert, and The Craft by Stephen King, and The Joy of Writing by Pierre Burton, I had assumed that this is what memoirs look like. All the while there was thought at the back of my mind that autobiographies should be dull and yet I found these so interesting.  While I grew up believing they were dull because that is what I heard my peers saying about them.  The opinions around me spoke down on them I now as an adult I see an attraction to the craft in our society.  Has our society changed its taste for the memoir or has the memoir changed?

In Your Life As Story by Tristan Reiner, she showcases the evolution of autobiography in chapter 2.  This isn’t my most favorite chapter so far but I found it very interesting.  I felt it was valuable enough for me to read it a few times to make sure I got something out of it.

She states that the autobiography used to be a chronological series of events. Often used for the intention of maintaining the history of the tribe, clan, or religious sect. Our North American and European cultures then used it as a means to convert you over to religion. People would write about their troubled lives and then say how God save them an invite you over to their religious side of the fence.

Along the way, around the mid-1960s, someone added some literary themes and structure to an autobiography and then named it as literary nonfiction. It became a success overnight. Politicians change their speeches and journalists changed how they delivered the news. Everyone wanted on this bandwagon.

Now genres are intertwined. Journalism for example seems to be more of the legacy keeper than the memoir or autobiography.  Fiction has even moved into the autobiography. As well, both the autobiography and journalists have stolen ideas from the novel.   I find it all very fascinating but then again I like history and I like the memoir.

All of this understanding got me to thinking about my writing process. When I started writing it was very chronological and dry. I sent a sample page to my cousin Christine and ask for some advice or feedback. She introduced me to the concept of “showing, not telling”. When I set down to rewrite what I had sent her I found I put all my senses into it. It was like I was in the trance, remembering everything I heard,felt, saw, … smelled. It was an amazing experience to be taken back through time like that, all in my mind.  It can be quite refreshing to reenter your past as your adult self. A little bit like the TV show Erica.  You can put a new understanding to it.

I must admit that I feel a bit sorry for my memoir ancestors who never had the opportunity to experience this kind of writing.  That people never got to go back into their skin and reflect and relive some moments of their lives like a machine, a telegraph machine that spews out a message. The message that you can decode in a different way than you did when you were a child. Your adult perception is different.

I am so fortunate that I can take this literary concept into my autobiography and add a piece of me into it. By adding my feelings and my sense of the world around me it really does make the story mine.  Care to jump into the past and relive something?  Make it an easy something, like the first time you climbed a tree with your friends or siblings.

Photo compliments of freedigitalphotos.net

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2 thoughts on “The Autobiography – from dull to amazing!

  1. Indeed, memoir (ie, life story) writers are blending creative non-fiction with aspects of other creative writing. It’s a good shift but very challeninging. Have you read “A Three Dog Life” by Abigail Thomas? Fantastic read :)

    • I am putting the book on my goodread’s list to ensure I pick it up for a read. Thank you for letting me know and I will be heading over to your nook to see your new writing developments right away:)

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