For the purpose of this discussion I'm going to start with memoir, because everybody has a life, but not everybody has a story idea for fiction.
It used to be that only famous people, or quasi-famous people, had the "right" to write an autobiography, or what we called "memoirs." I was a Vegas showgirl and I dated Frank Sinatra, etc... But more recently, a new form developed. People with relatively normal lives started telling their own life stories as if they were fiction. Maybe they were better writers, but otherwise normal. (Or as normal as writers could be.) Terms like "narrative nonfiction" or sometimes "literary nonfiction" were in the air, probably to prevent confusion between the old "memoirs" and the new "memoir."
Around that time, I became interested in writing a memoir about my pregnancy juxtaposed with my husband's recovery from brain surgery. The books on my lap during the earliest drafts were Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott, The Blue Jay's Dance by Louise Erdrich, Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. (Mango Street is technically fiction, but if I understand correctly it is largely autobiographical. And the small chunks adding up to telling a story seemed really relevant for me---though I didn't know yet that I was going to write novels in verse.) I read all the memoir I could find, though it wasn't clearly categorized yet. Or it was just beginning to be.
Then came momoir...all the books about motherhood. If that's where your interest lies, seek out ones that are similar. See how they're done. See what they're missing. See what you can do with the topic that hasn't been done before. I've looked into some funny irreverent ones, but none of them seemed to bust sod like Operating Instructions did. But many years have passed, and maybe I've changed as a reader.
Lamott's agent at the time, who suggested her letters should be a book, has gone on to write beautiful and unusual memoir herself, though not narrative in the traditional sense. Again, chunks can be in any order, but they add up to a complete story. Do yourself a favor and read Safekeeping and Three Dog Life by Abby Thomas if you haven't already. Then you'll be so inspired to write your own stories, that you should look at her Thinking about Memoir, as well. And Lamott's Bird by Bird for writers in general.
Another favorite combo, Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones will jump start you into writing that very day. Then her memoir Long Quiet Highway will keep you at it forever.
So, this is Step One: Read
- Look up your title online, if you have one. Google, Amazon, State Library Search.
- Look up your topic, in this case memoir with similar themes. See if there's a niche unfilled. And don't be discouraged if it looks like it has all been done. Maybe yours will be the only funny one. Anyway, your style and voice will be different---I'll talk more about that in future posts.
- Read memoir.
- Read books on writing/writing memoir.
Check in again soon for Step Two.