This blog was featured on 10/23/2019
5 Lessons from Claire Bidwell Smith
Written by
She Writes
October 2019
Written by
She Writes
October 2019

Have you ever wondered if your personal story was strong enough to write a book about it? In Claire Bidwell Smith's She Writes University class, she walked us through "How to Write Your Best Memoir." As the author of the acclaimed The Rules of Inheritance, she took students through an emotional and creative journey of the heart and soul to support them to access their stories, step into the story they’re meant to write, and then crack it all the way open.

We've pulled out a few gems, but she has dozens of pro tips in her class for aspiring memoirists. Make sure you grab the recording while there is still time!

The Start Isn't Always the Beginning

In her webinar, Claire talks about how she struggled with how to begin her start. That initially she was starting to early on and it was taking to long to get to the meat of the action. So she moved her timeline way up to a major event so the book kicked of with the interest already high. 

Deciding on Your Lens

One of the key ways to get your memoir focused and off the ground is deciding on the lens with which you will be telling your story. Real-life has too many details to include them all, so you have to pick and chose. Claire wrote her book through the lens of the stages of grief. Elizabeth Gilbert framed hers around three sections: eat, pray, love. In her webinar, she walks students through choosing their lens and the power of that decision. 

The Unexpected Power of Tense

For many memoirists, writing in the past tense is a natural choice. You're recounting events that have already transpired, so it only makes sense. Claire found, however, that when she switched to using the present tense to reflect on her experiences in her twenties, the change in tense put her in a headspace much closer to that time and place. Just working from the present allowed it all to come to life in such greater vivid detail, without hindsight getting in the way. 

The Impossible Task of Anticipating Reactions

Perhaps the most difficult part about memoir is the interrupting need to consider what the people in your life will think of your story. Claire discusses her own experience and how people who had consented to being included were angered by what she had written and how they were portrayed. And people who she thought would be upset actually really liked the story. Anticipating your loved one's reactions is not only impossible, but can hinder the writing. So she advises memoirists to write their drafts without regard and then start thinking about the impact in as honest a way as they possibly can.

The Importance of Community

Claire talks about how important it is to seek community during your writing journey. Given the often sensitive nature of memoir, you may not find a great deal of support in you exiting circle. It may require a fellow memoirist or a fellow survival or a fellow recovering addict or a fellow cancer survivor to appreciate and encourage the work you're trying to do. 

If you are currently working on a memoir or have even considered writing one at some point, don't miss this session of She Writes University!

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