In Inventing the Truth, The Art and Craft of Memoir, Zinsser creates a fascinating collection of first-hand accounts from nine “writers explaining how they wrote their memoirs.” The stories included in Inventing the Truth came from a series of talks sponsored by The Book of the Month Club beginning in 1986. William Zinsser does an excellent job of converting those talks to printed accounts of each author’s thoughts on writing his or her memoir. The authors include Russell Baker (Growing Up), Jill Ker Conway (The Road from Coorain), Annie Dillard (An American Childhood), Ian Frazier (Family), Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Colored People), Alfred Kazin (A Walker in the City), Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes), Toni Morrison (Beloved), and Eileen Simpson (Poets in their Youth).In Zinsser’s introduction, he speaks about memoir writing as a combination of both art and craft, consisting of “integrity of intention,” and the “careful act of construction,” as being vital elements to writing a successful memoir. He stresses the importance of learning to write well, attempting to dispel the myth that stories about an interesting life will write themselves.
“We like to think that an interesting life will simply fall into place on the page. It won’t. We like to think that Thoreau went home to Concord and just wrote up his notes. He didn’t. He wrote seven drafts of Walden in eight years, piecing together by what Margaret Fuller called the mosaic method a book that seems casual and even chatty.”
Zinsser’s intention was to accurately recreate the voice of each author from recorded talks or interviews each gave, preserving each memoir writer’s tone and intention. His attempt was successful, and the book has the feeling of being told a set of stories about widely varying motivations, struggles, and experiences faced by successful writers in the memoir genre. While the book is a very interesting read, it is less likely to provide the reader with actionable steps or exercises he or she can apply to writing his or her own memoir than other memoir writing books might. Instead, the reader feels a kinship with other authors, recognizing and identifying with the obstacles shared in the book. Broad lessons based on the experience of others are what the reader will take away from this book. It is a worthwhile read, particularly for contrast to many “nuts and bolts” types of instructional memoir writing books.
Other Memoir Writing Books and Resources
Writing About Your Life, William Zinsser
Before We Get Started, Bret Lott
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
Thinking About Memoir, Abigail Thomas
Living to Tell The Tale, Jane Taylor McDonnell
Resources for Memoir Writers
About William Zinsser
From the book cover: William Zinsser is a writer, editor, and teacher. His fifteen books include the classic On Writing Well, now in its sixth edition.. Book Information
Publisher: Mariner Books