Life is a wilderness. A glorious, complex, terrifying, edifying, sacred and sanctifying wilderness. When we write a memoir, we are inviting readers to join us on an excursion through our unique wilderness, to walk the path we have carved and to share with them the unique understanding we have of the terrain.

Just as you would only ever entrust yourself to a wilderness guide who was both competent and knowledgeable, someone who could assure you that she was able to navigate the terrain and deliver you safely to the other side, a reader will be only be willing to follow you into your story if they feel confident that you will be able to bring them safely to the other side. And so, for one thing, they will need to know that there is another side to your story, that you have not just lived through something, but you have also transcended it, discovered or made something of it in some way. Rehashing the past is revisiting the past without any personal evolution or growth. Recalling the past with wisdom, empathy, grace or forgiveness is the stuff of great memoir, a gift.

For now, let's start our walk through the wilderness and see where we end up.

probably never entrust yourself to someone who offered to take you on every river in the area and up and down every cliff and canyon, all without maps or a compass, but trust me trust me I know what I'm doing...

"The split self or inner conflict must manifest on the first pages and form the book's thrust or through line -- some journey toward the self's overhaul by book's end." ~ Karr

"However random or episodic a book seems, a blazing psychic struggle holds it together, either thematically or the way a plot would keep a novel rolling forward." ~ Karr

"In a great memoir, some aspect of the writer's struggle for self often serves as the book's organizing principle, and the narrator's battle to become whole rages over the book's trajectory." ~ Karr 

"You're always looking for that inner enemy that'll help you to structure the book. I always have inklings of it, but tend to find it by writing interior frets and confessions and yearnings as I recall them. Maybe it's only manifest after a first draft. Once I've found it, I'll revise with it as the spine -- how the self evolves to reconcile its inner conflicts over time. Your attendant setbacks and jackpots should lead up to a transformed self at the end." ~ Karr


from blog by Wendy Dale:

If you don’t have a solid structure, all you have is a book with a disconnected series of events. This happened, then this, and by the way, I also lived through this. Without structure, you don’t give your reader a reason to keep turning the pages.

After years of continually making this mistake, I’ve finally learned that it saves a great deal of time to have a good sense of my overall story before I begin writing. This doesn’t mean knowing concretely what each chapter will consist of. But it does mean having a solid outline of the book’s story and theme, the beginning and ending, and some of the more dramatic twists in the book. As I write, I get a better sense of the book’s structure, but beginning to write without knowing how your book is going to end is a fatal error.