Advice for Memoir Writers from Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist and Author Amanda Bennett

by Pamme Boutselis

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Amanda Bennett is an executive editor at Bloomberg News, directing special projects and investigations. She is the author of several books, including “In Memoriam,” “The Quiet Room,” “The Man Who Stayed Behind” and “The Cost of Hope,” a memoir about her family’s fight against the kidney disease that eventually killed her husband. She recently shared some advice for memoir writers:

Make a timeline. And keep filling it in as you write.

Don’t be afraid to research. “The internet is awesome,” said Bennett. She recommends finding clues about yourself and the things you did through online tools, which will help you figure out you when you did certain things, what the weather might have been like during that time or what events were also happening in the world. People can also find pieces of your story for you, if you ask for help. Don’t get lost in the research, though. Your memoir is about you – it’s your point of view.

It’s only pixels (or lead or ink). Free yourself up to write. Barrett wrote so many things that never saw the light of day. “A computer is very liberating. You can just put it all out there,” said Bennett. “I’m a professional writer and I don’t want anyone to look at the draft.” She said to just write and then don’t show it to anyone until you are ready.

It’s your story – it’s not someone else’s story. You can be truthful without being 100% accurate. Try to be reasonable and write as accurately as possible. You may not recall exactly what was said but you know how you and others habitually talk and the gist of what you said.

Just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s interesting. If you’re considering writing a memoir, and hope to publish it, you must have a good story to tell. “You can drive yourself forward if you’re trying to answer a question,” said Barrett. When it came to writing “The Cost of Hope,” Barrett had questions she wanted to answer: “Did I do the right thing? What kind of choices did I make and what was the cost?” Her memoir provided the opportunity to examine and better understand what she had been through with her family.

While Barrett said that the memoirs are hot right now, she acknowledged that traditional publishers do not publish the vast majority. With the popularity of e-books, though, opportunities have exploded.