The Memoir Project

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

Other girls wanted to be veterinarians, to marry rich, to be Rockettes. From that moment on, what I wanted most was a place of my own in the Dewey decimal system.[

What is the book about?

“The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life ” is written by Marion  Roach Smith, a journalist , accomplished author of many blog posts, articles and books and the teacher of a renowned class on writing. Her website, which is quite remarkable in its own right, is available here.

The purpose of this book is to help you learn to write with intent. Marion Roach Smith explains the steps to writing your memoir (or any other work) in a direct and concise form. Along the way, she also gives us the tools and techniques required to do so as well as avoiding common pitfalls like ‘writer’s block’ etc.

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What does this book cover?

The introduction in “The Memoir Project” gets right to the point by asking us to be receptive to learning to write with intent. This is then followed by five chapters, each of which is a step in the journey towards writing. The steps  are

  1. figure out the idea

  2. figure out what is important and not

  3. Write, write, write

  4. Refine

  5. Edit

(I must apologize to Marion Roach Smith for trying to distill her ideas into five steps. The book is richer in detail and, obviously, does a much better job of communicating what is needed than I can.)

The book ends with a punch list, reproduced below

  1. Toss out your writing prompts

  2. Pay attention

  3. Write with intent

  4. Write what you know

  5. Include transcendence

  6. Be hospitable

  7. Tell the truth

  8. Make every page drive one story forward

  9. Ask yourself “What is this about?”

  10. Use the algorithm

  11. Go small

  12. Take notes

  13. Refer to reference books

  14. Focus your lens

  15. Think in propinquities

  16. Be counterphobic

  17. Read the news

  18. Make your argument

  19. Map out your structure

  20. Vomit up a draft

  21. Plant your arrows

  22. Choose your audience

  23. Edit with murder on your mind

What did I like?

“The Memoir Project” is filled with practical advice that will help potential writers tremendously. The author’s vast experience in writing comes through and helps in making this advice grounded in reality and genuine.

The author has made the tone of the book conversational. This makes it easy to read and comprehend. In addition, the personal vignettes and anecdotes adds that human touch. As a result, this book moves to a place beyond being a textbook on writing.

What did I not like?


My Recommendation

“The Memoir Project” is a short book in terms of pages but long on content. It is an excellent book for people who want to start writing and need a helping hand.

I strongly recommend this book for those looking to write.


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