Reading About Writing: Inventing the Truth, the Art and Craft of Memoir

Memoir is the best search mechanism that writers are given.  Memoir is how we try to make sense of who we are, who we once were, and what values and heritage shaped us.  If a writer seriously embarks on that quest, readers will be nourished by the journey, bringing along many associations with quests of their own.  Inventing the Truth, The Art and Craft of Memoir, by William Zinsser

Starting Places.  That’s what I call the episodes of  my life which I’ve been writing about in my journal.  Most of them take place in the midwestern suburban neighborhood were I grew up during the 1960’s, a neighborhood designed for the influx of returning WWII veterans who needed an affordable place to raise their burgeoning families.  A neighborhood where I was something of an anomaly – an only child where most every family was Catholic and dedicated to the principals of that faith in terms of procreation.   A neighborhood where I learned to be comfortable within large groups of rough and tumble children, but also where I carved a niche for myself and the tiny adult who lived within me, the one who could spend hours nestled among her stuffed animals reading, writing stories, and drawing pictures,  or playing happily away at the piano.

In recalling the childhood me, I clearly see the development of today’s me, the places I started out in terms of personality and preferences and reactions to the world around me.  So I like Zinsser’s idea of memoir as a “search mechanism,” a way a writer tries to “make sense of who we are, who we once were, and what values and heritage shaped us.”   That’s why I enjoy reading memoirs so much.  I’m fascinated by Starting Places – my own, and other peoples.





6 thoughts on “Reading About Writing: Inventing the Truth, the Art and Craft of Memoir

  1. I’ve often thought about my life and where I’ve come to be and how, and I’m struck by how malleable that is, how by changing my thoughts, the tone of the story changes, not the facts, but the tone. And that changes everything.

    • It’s true – I see things completely differently as I get older and have different experiences. I also see myself more clearly, which is sometimes a mixed blessing!

  2. I rushed to get a copy of Inventing the Truth after your first enthusiastic mention of it – I’m looking forward to it very much. I do like Lilian’s comment, too. It’ s the way we change the story of our lives over time that is so fascinating, I think.

    • The interesting thing about this book was that it was actually a series of essays by memoir writers who were talking about why they wrote memoir in the first place – but in so doing, each essay became another little memoir in and of itself. Fascinating layers in each of these pieces.

  3. The older I get, the more it seems my life can be divided into segments that were inhabited by a different person – or rather, a different version of me. Or is that too extreme?

    I wrote about Colette today, and her distillation of herself into the novel Break of Day – not in great detail, but enough to include her view that she drew on her own experience, but the writer’s life is only ever a painter’s model for art. And somewhere in that detachment is what I’m getting at, I think.

    • I think you have to be a certain distance away from circumstances and events in your life to make sense of them in any meaningful way. And sometimes it does seem as if the person having those experiences was a completely different version of who we are right now.

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