[Writing Prompt] The Non-Memoir

Don’t miss this news about a new week-long challenge to keep you writing in June — and this one comes with a built-in revision component!

The Prompt

Take an event/experience from your own life and fictionalize it

Last year, at a writer’s conference I was struck by the reaction of a panel of agents every time someone asked them a question that started, “I’m writing a memoir, and…”

They rolled their eyes. They groaned. They composed themselves and gently tried to dissuade the writer from getting their hopes up about being able to publish a memoir. The reasons?

  • Everyone is writing a memoir. Competition is huge and truly compelling memoirs are few and far between
  • Even if you’ve had a tragic life event, that’s not enough to sell your story. By all means write it, but don’t expect to sell it unless you have a bigger story: how you triumphed after the tragedy; how someone else can learn from your experiences; how you met/become/already were a celebrity (OK, that last one’s a bit cynical, but not far from the truth).

The best piece of advice I heard was not ‘stop writing memoir’ but “why not take your story and turn it into fiction, with compelling characters, rich scenarios, drama, comedy, all the things that make for a great novel?”

The Prompt

Take an event/experience from your own life and fictionalize it


  • Use the truth of your emotions, reactions etc., to inform the story but use this chance to have your character be wittier/smarter/weaker/more vulnerable than you were.
  • Write a better ending than the one life gave you.
  • Use an often-told family story as source material if you don’t want to write about your own experiences (e.g. the story of how my grandparents courted and eventually married is a wonderful one that I fully intend to mine for a story one day)
  • Remember that you are not cataloguing history. You are weaving a story that will share some experience in a visceral way with readers. Go deeply into the emotions and/or the details at least once during the story. Make us feel it.

3 thoughts on “[Writing Prompt] The Non-Memoir”

  1. Done. And feeling pretty emotional now.

    Should have picked a happier moment to reflect on, I think.

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