The Whole Megillah caught up with busy author and teacher Lisa Romeo last month at a coffee shop in northern New Jersey. I asked her for her top tips in writing memoir. Here are the results of our conversation, fresh off the publication of her book-length memoir, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss (University of Nevada Press, May 2018).
- Write your first draft as if no one’s going to read it — get the whole story out, name names.
- Be more curious about your own memories — they’re fallible — you may not want to ask others to verify, but it never hurts to do a little more investigating even when you think you know.
- Think of story and narrative. Memoir is not a collection of random things. It has to have an arc.
- That doesn’t mean that everything has to be tied up with a bow at the end. Don’t do that. Bring the truth of real life to the story.
- Read more memoir, all kinds, not just the type you want to write, give the advantage of seeing all the different ways you can approach the form. Develop your own list, start with the classics. If you limit yourself to the popular ones or the most successful ones, you’re shortchanging yourself.
- Read more, period. Poetry, fiction, especially poetry — word economy in motion.
- Get really good feedback. Make sure the people you’re asking are skilled at giving feedback in a way that will help you. Note that these people may not be the people in your writing circle or critique group. Insist on high quality feedback.
- Seriously think about the feedback and try it — see what happens.
- Have a side project. If all you do every time you’re at the keyboard is your memoir especially if sad or traumatic, you may lose your writing spirit. Write poetry or fiction, humor, a play.
Take your time, don’t rush it. Unless you have a contract and a deadline, let it marinate. Take breaks from the work, let it develop, enrich and deepen.
About Lisa Romeo
Lisa Romeo is the author of Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss, (University of Nevada Press, May 1). Her nonfiction is listed in Best American Essays 2016, and published in popular and literary venues, including the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Longreads, Brain Child, Inside Jersey, Brevity, and Hippocampus. Lisa teaches with Bay Path University’s MFA program, and works as a freelance editor and writing coach. A former equestrian journalist and public relations specialist, she completed an MFA at Stonecoast/University of Southern Maine. Lisa lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and sons.