Memoir Writing Assignment

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Well, in the words of Alice Hoffman, why not “start small.” Writing flash memoir—starting small—is an excellent way to practice the craft of writing memoir, and to prepare for the long-form demands of a book-length memoir.

The brief form will require you to explore your deeper story truth and make sense of your experience (for yourself and for your reader) within a short page span.

Without missing a beat, Hoffman replied, “Start short.” She explained that short stories provided an opportunity to practice craft on a scale more manageable and easier to sustain than the long-form demands of a novel.

Since that gathering back in the 1990s, short form narratives have proliferated, and the “short-short” story, known as flash fiction, has become increasingly popular. The “memoir essay,” to borrow a phrase Adam Gopnik uses in his introduction to The Best American Essays 2008, is an essay-length memoir, generally in the neighborhood of 2000 to 6000 words.

Writing about places as a memoir adds another layer to the information.

You are not just informing your readers about the history or the sites, but giving them a first-person account of how you experienced these locations.What you choose as your focus for the memoir depends a great deal on the length of the manuscript you wish to write.Select a single person or a fond memory for a shorter essay or writing assignment.How your family loved and supported you, or maybe how they didn't, is fertile ground to share in your tale of how you became the person you are.Think back to that teacher who taught you more than just a lesson plan and showed you how to passionately follow your dreams and embrace your individuality.As Cooper also says in his preface to In Short, brief memoir essays provide readers with the opportunity to experience “the disproportionate power of the small to move, persuade, and change us.” Maybe you’ve started writing a book-length memoir but, like the woman at Alice Hoffman’s reading, haven’t completed it.Or perhaps you aspire to write a book-length memoir but don’t know where to start.Perhaps some of your significant memories are attached to specific things, such as a childhood toy, a book or your father's favorite chair.These topics are ideal for shorter formats such as essays, which can benefit from the limited focus of just one thing.Reading short memoir essays in this way—“seeing beneath the surface” of a piece to the larger sense the author is making—will make you a better writer when you try your hand at writing flash memoir and longer memoir. For now, enjoy reading like a writer and seeing beneath the surface of the memoir pieces you read.A memoir is a first person account of an autobiographical experience that can be written in a short form like an essay or as a full-length book.


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