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Your Life as Story: Discovering the "new Autobiography" and Writing Memoir as Literature

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In Your Life As Story, autobiography expert Tristine Rainer explains how we can all find the important messages in our lives. Like Mary Karr or Frank McCourt, we can shape those stories into dramatic narratives that are compelling to others. Blending literary scholarship with practical coaching, Rainer shares her remarkable techniques for finding the essentials of story st In Your Life As Story, autobiography expert Tristine Rainer explains how we can all find the important messages in our lives. Like Mary Karr or Frank McCourt, we can shape those stories into dramatic narratives that are compelling to others. Blending literary scholarship with practical coaching, Rainer shares her remarkable techniques for finding the essentials of story structure within your life's scattered experiences. Most important, she explains how to treasure the struggles in your past and discover the meaning within those experiences to capture the unique myth at work in your life.


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In Your Life As Story, autobiography expert Tristine Rainer explains how we can all find the important messages in our lives. Like Mary Karr or Frank McCourt, we can shape those stories into dramatic narratives that are compelling to others. Blending literary scholarship with practical coaching, Rainer shares her remarkable techniques for finding the essentials of story st In Your Life As Story, autobiography expert Tristine Rainer explains how we can all find the important messages in our lives. Like Mary Karr or Frank McCourt, we can shape those stories into dramatic narratives that are compelling to others. Blending literary scholarship with practical coaching, Rainer shares her remarkable techniques for finding the essentials of story structure within your life's scattered experiences. Most important, she explains how to treasure the struggles in your past and discover the meaning within those experiences to capture the unique myth at work in your life.

30 review for Your Life as Story: Discovering the "new Autobiography" and Writing Memoir as Literature

  1. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    It is a bit rare these days that I rate a book as amazing. This one is for me. I began reading this book because I’m writing my master’s thesis on spiritual memoirs and I figured that reading a book about how to write “memoir as literature” would be a good idea since it might give me a jump start on analysis. In the back of my mind I’ve long had the idea to write a memoir about my dearest brother who was like a father to me. Well, this will be my guidebook when that time comes. Rainer’s lifelong It is a bit rare these days that I rate a book as amazing. This one is for me. I began reading this book because I’m writing my master’s thesis on spiritual memoirs and I figured that reading a book about how to write “memoir as literature” would be a good idea since it might give me a jump start on analysis. In the back of my mind I’ve long had the idea to write a memoir about my dearest brother who was like a father to me. Well, this will be my guidebook when that time comes. Rainer’s lifelong interest in diaries and memoirs as well as her screenwriting has helped to create this entirely thorough and literate book. Written in 1997, she was teaching classes on writing the “new autobiography” and I notice now she has earned a PhD and continues to teach through her Center for Autobiographic Studies as well as a couple of universities. This book includes a history of autobiography, an analysis of “what is story” as well as countless exercises to work the reader through writing his or her own memoir or autobiography. Her exercises are based on her research and her classroom application. The pages are overflowing with examples for well-known writers like James Baldwin, Anais Nin, Mary Karr, Terry Tempest Williams. The text contains a large bibliography and appendix to supplement the text. I do not have one ounce of negative criticism for this book and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to approach the memoir/personal essay/autobiography in a manner that is literary and articulate.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    If you’re writing a Memoir, Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer is for you. If you’re writing fiction, this book has much to offer. If you want to examine a part of your life, or to understand something you’ve experienced, even if you are not a writer, use this book as a guide and try your hand at writing. You may well surprise yourself!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jules Vilmur

    Last week, I was scouring the library for resource books on Memoir. I didn't come up with much beyond the handful I'd already dug through, but later the same night, while re-shelving my own books in our new office, I tripped over "Your Life As Story". It's one of the books I bought while researching my thesis on Therapeutic Writing a decade ago and the spine is familiar as any other on my shelf, but I haven't cracked it since September of 2002. I picked up the book, flipped through it and laughed Last week, I was scouring the library for resource books on Memoir. I didn't come up with much beyond the handful I'd already dug through, but later the same night, while re-shelving my own books in our new office, I tripped over "Your Life As Story". It's one of the books I bought while researching my thesis on Therapeutic Writing a decade ago and the spine is familiar as any other on my shelf, but I haven't cracked it since September of 2002. I picked up the book, flipped through it and laughed. If I'd found it in the library, I'd have declared it “Exactly what I was looking for!” and clutched it to my chest while running for the check-out line. Instead, it was waiting casually to be remembered and rescued from deep shelves five feet from where I sleep. Whole sections on structure and craft, were of little interest to me at the time as I was focused on the therapeutic elements of writing but are now incredibly helpful. Chapters on Essential Elements, Voice and the Anatomy of a Scene give clear and solid direction. Chapter Seven, titled “Tricks Memory Plays on You and Tricks You Can Play on It” is especially brilliant. “If you tend towards the bright memory clichés of a Pollyanna, it means going deeper and being more honest about negative feelings. If you tend toward melancholia, it means looking for pleasant memories to mix with the dark.” I have come to realize over the last few months that my story is one which cannot be told without lightness and laughter.I rework passages endlessly to find the humor and humanity in them. I dig through memories and photos and conversations to find the happy … the silly … and the sweet.” Thumbing through Your Life As Story, I come across highlighted sections which I quoted in my thesis: “It is by making meaning out of memory that one is healed, whether through therapy, life, journal writing or autobiographic writing. That meaning need not be religious, spiritual or psychological; it can be philosophic or aesthetic. Sometimes the only meaning one can find in certain events is aesthetic, the ability to make something beautifully crafted out of what in life was arbitrary, ugly or painful.” Re-reading those passages brings a little of that fire back to my belly as I wholly agree with and consider myself living proof of the therapeutic value of writing. An obvious example of that is a piece titled "Parting", which I wrote about the process of agreeing to donate my daughter's organs as she lay dying in the room across the hall. Clearly a horrible experience and dreadful subject matter, but immeasurably healing to write out. Even better though is being able to craft those raw emotions into a story whose message is one of hope. I still swear by Therapeutic Writing, but I am cognizant of the fact that there is chasm between pure Writing Therapy and writing Life as Story. What's difficult, is finding resources and guidance that honors both traditions, offers useful information and provides the necessary direction. In this book, Tristine Rainer book does all of that. I am ashamed to have ignored it for so long.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lisa McKenzie

    I have always been skeptical of instructional writing manuals, with the notable exception Stunk and White's definitive work, The Elements of Style. Writing is not a mechanical act, and literature resists most nuts and bolts descriptions. Until now. Your Life as Story is proving to be an exhaustive exploration of the evolution of contemporary memoir. Tristine Rainer dissects the defining narrative elements of a wide range of enduring literary achievements with the clarity of a archeologist wieldi I have always been skeptical of instructional writing manuals, with the notable exception Stunk and White's definitive work, The Elements of Style. Writing is not a mechanical act, and literature resists most nuts and bolts descriptions. Until now. Your Life as Story is proving to be an exhaustive exploration of the evolution of contemporary memoir. Tristine Rainer dissects the defining narrative elements of a wide range of enduring literary achievements with the clarity of a archeologist wielding the finest of brushes and the sharpest of scalpels. My student, Martha Brammer, kindly lent this book to me, and I have no doubt it will help us both to better articulate our goals in crafting a compelling final draft of her endearing memoir.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jonna Higgins-Freese

    This is one of the best single books available on how to write a memoir. It really focuses on the need to find the story in the events, and shape the narrative. The explanation of the elements of story is the clearest thing I have ever read on that topic. The writing is engaging, and she gives great examples.

  6. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Ibrahim ♥

    Everybody has a story to tell and through that we come to know what our life means. From the beginning the author favors the description of the new autobiography, here fiction and reality inter-mingle and we proceed to read our life as if it were a dream imaginatively reshaped. The mystery and complexity of literature are interwoven in the writing of our life as New Autobiography. We don't have to look too far in the past, but what are our modern myths? Starting with chapter 3, the author encour Everybody has a story to tell and through that we come to know what our life means. From the beginning the author favors the description of the new autobiography, here fiction and reality inter-mingle and we proceed to read our life as if it were a dream imaginatively reshaped. The mystery and complexity of literature are interwoven in the writing of our life as New Autobiography. We don't have to look too far in the past, but what are our modern myths? Starting with chapter 3, the author encourages us to start writing, or rather prewriting, in a creative journal. Like a personal diary, it is a place for spontaneity, play, creative risks, and total freedom from judgement. It's a place to make mistakes, write clichés, wallow in self-pity, split infinitives, rant, be unfair, and have flashes of brilliance that turn out to be inflated abstractions. It is meant for no one's eye but your own and can be destroyed when your autobiographic work is finished. Whereas in the autobiography the description of individual human life by the individual, in the new autobiography we have a late 20th c. liberation of the established genre of writing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kristina Seleshanko

    Essential reading for the memoir or autobiography writer, and useful for novelists, too. The first chapter or two is dry, and I was worried the book would be too academic, but it turned out perfectly practical. I've never read such a great explanation of good story structure (the acts). Plus, there's great advice on "waking up" your memories and powers of observation, writing "what you dare not say," theme, jumping through time, ethical and legal concerns, and more. Essential reading for the memoir or autobiography writer, and useful for novelists, too. The first chapter or two is dry, and I was worried the book would be too academic, but it turned out perfectly practical. I've never read such a great explanation of good story structure (the acts). Plus, there's great advice on "waking up" your memories and powers of observation, writing "what you dare not say," theme, jumping through time, ethical and legal concerns, and more.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maria Ramos

    A great writing book, no matter if you are writing fiction or non-fiction. Though the book is geared towards people writing memoir, the section on how to "slice" your life for memoir writing gave me real insight into the narrative arc for fiction, and that the choice of what time period in your character's life that your novel will cover is not arbitrary--it is related to the theme. Rainer is a generous, grounded writer, and offers many true life examples. A very helpful book. A great writing book, no matter if you are writing fiction or non-fiction. Though the book is geared towards people writing memoir, the section on how to "slice" your life for memoir writing gave me real insight into the narrative arc for fiction, and that the choice of what time period in your character's life that your novel will cover is not arbitrary--it is related to the theme. Rainer is a generous, grounded writer, and offers many true life examples. A very helpful book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Maria Keckler

    Just getting started and enjoying it... Rainer is talking about the concepts Don Miller has synthesized and popularized in his Storyline book and conference. She delves deeper, particularly bringing into focus the cognitive and psychological research findings that support that seeing our life in the context of story structure and writing about it has the power to bring healing at many levels... I'll share more when I'm done. Just getting started and enjoying it... Rainer is talking about the concepts Don Miller has synthesized and popularized in his Storyline book and conference. She delves deeper, particularly bringing into focus the cognitive and psychological research findings that support that seeing our life in the context of story structure and writing about it has the power to bring healing at many levels... I'll share more when I'm done.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Parham

    Excellent book. A good read with easy-to-understand concepts about writing autobiography and memoir. The approachable style and frankness with which the material is presented makes you feel as if you're right there in the author's Literature class. Recommended reading for any aspiring author of memoir. Excellent book. A good read with easy-to-understand concepts about writing autobiography and memoir. The approachable style and frankness with which the material is presented makes you feel as if you're right there in the author's Literature class. Recommended reading for any aspiring author of memoir.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia Valevicius

    Excellent reference book for people whose intention it is to write a memoir or autobiography. Lots of good examples from other works. I was happy to recognize and relate to many of the writers to which Ms. Rainer refers. No even sure if I finished it all, but I jump here and there to parts that interest me. Eventually, I'm sure it will be the entire book. Worthwhile investment! Excellent reference book for people whose intention it is to write a memoir or autobiography. Lots of good examples from other works. I was happy to recognize and relate to many of the writers to which Ms. Rainer refers. No even sure if I finished it all, but I jump here and there to parts that interest me. Eventually, I'm sure it will be the entire book. Worthwhile investment!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Davy Kent

    As a resource, it's good. It does dawdle quite a bit, though, and it takes its time getting to the point. It's half resource, half personal story. The resource part is solid and I did not come across anything objectionable. The personal stories I could have done without, but they weren't exactly bad. They were simply unnecessary for me. As a resource, it's good. It does dawdle quite a bit, though, and it takes its time getting to the point. It's half resource, half personal story. The resource part is solid and I did not come across anything objectionable. The personal stories I could have done without, but they weren't exactly bad. They were simply unnecessary for me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mycala

    Despite the title (she does have a thing for the word New and she wants to drive it home!) this was a good book. I do cringe every time I see the word "new" capitalized in the text. It makes me almost jump every time I see it. Oh, there it is again. Goodness. But seriously, if you plan to write an autobiography (whether old or new. or heck, even ancient, archaic, current, or contemporary!) you'll get some good tips here. I think her book on Modern Diary-writing was her best, though. (Oh, okay, Th Despite the title (she does have a thing for the word New and she wants to drive it home!) this was a good book. I do cringe every time I see the word "new" capitalized in the text. It makes me almost jump every time I see it. Oh, there it is again. Goodness. But seriously, if you plan to write an autobiography (whether old or new. or heck, even ancient, archaic, current, or contemporary!) you'll get some good tips here. I think her book on Modern Diary-writing was her best, though. (Oh, okay, The New Diary.)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nita

    I found this book very helpful in making sense of the crazy path that is writing a memoir. She talks about the shape of a story and gives many techniques for findin the story within the facts and anecdotes of your life. One of my favorite craft books!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jenevieve

    I was afraid it would be cheesy or new-age-y, but I'm actually finding it very helpful. She has a talent for putting things that I know subconsciously into a very concrete, usable expression. I was afraid it would be cheesy or new-age-y, but I'm actually finding it very helpful. She has a talent for putting things that I know subconsciously into a very concrete, usable expression.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sunny

    I'm learning from this book how to tell stories in a more compelling way. Everyone who wants to write their life's stories (and that should be everyone) should read this. I'm learning from this book how to tell stories in a more compelling way. Everyone who wants to write their life's stories (and that should be everyone) should read this.

  17. 4 out of 5

    sarah morgan

    If only I could I'd give this book six stars, I would. It is packed with good advice on writing memoir. I'll be keeping this in my reference library for years to come. If only I could I'd give this book six stars, I would. It is packed with good advice on writing memoir. I'll be keeping this in my reference library for years to come.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I used this book to write a memoir and it was extremely helpful. I highly recommend it for anyone writing an autobiography or memoir!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Griffin

    excellent book on writing - any kind, but focus on memoir. I'm going to read it again, and this time I'll do the exercises : -) excellent book on writing - any kind, but focus on memoir. I'm going to read it again, and this time I'll do the exercises : -)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Grace Peterson

    EXCELLENT. This book provided the tools I needed to write my memoir. I highly recommend it to anyone who has questions about how to go about the process.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Full of suggestions. I will use it often as a reference book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Hardina

    An excellent companion when striving to making meaning of life by writing narrative nonfiction.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sara Monk

    What an excellent resource for shaping a memoir! This book is full of exercises to assist you in identifying, outlining and writing your story. Even better, the book is an inspirational read that will inspire you to write your book even when you find yourself stuck or in fear of writing. What I loved most is the concept of writing a shitty first draft. No creative endeavours ever come out the way you see them in your mind on the first draft. All you need to do is begin writing - get the words on What an excellent resource for shaping a memoir! This book is full of exercises to assist you in identifying, outlining and writing your story. Even better, the book is an inspirational read that will inspire you to write your book even when you find yourself stuck or in fear of writing. What I loved most is the concept of writing a shitty first draft. No creative endeavours ever come out the way you see them in your mind on the first draft. All you need to do is begin writing - get the words onto paper - and then you can edit as many times as you want later on. This book isn't the book to go to if you are debating between publishing or self-publishing, as much of this information is outdated (though this section is tucked away at the back of the book in the appendixes and does not affect the quality of the information found throughout the book). I'd recommend this book to anyone looking to write the story of their lives!

  24. 4 out of 5

    A W

    Save yourself the trouble: do not buy this book. Reading widely in preparation for writing a memoir, I read Mary Karr's "Memoir as Art," (mostly good, see my review). She mentioned this book, so I thought I'd read it as well. It reeks of an atmosphere of Eighties chic: "Lives of the Rich and Famous," et all. I read the first fifty pages and decided to throw it away. Save yourself the trouble: do not buy this book. Reading widely in preparation for writing a memoir, I read Mary Karr's "Memoir as Art," (mostly good, see my review). She mentioned this book, so I thought I'd read it as well. It reeks of an atmosphere of Eighties chic: "Lives of the Rich and Famous," et all. I read the first fifty pages and decided to throw it away.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lou Ashby

    Absolutely brilliant book for anyone wanting to write their memoir or autobiography. Tristine is an incredible teacher and guide and helped me so much when I did my first memoir years ago. Written in such a format that you'll find your voice without any self judgement. Highly recommend. Absolutely brilliant book for anyone wanting to write their memoir or autobiography. Tristine is an incredible teacher and guide and helped me so much when I did my first memoir years ago. Written in such a format that you'll find your voice without any self judgement. Highly recommend.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Hiland

    Still the best book on memoir that I've ever read. Still the best book on memoir that I've ever read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sharlyn Zimmerman-Tollefson

    I absolutely loved this book. So much knowledge with writing exercises to practice your writing. Working on my first book, hoping it will help me hone my skills.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Meh. I read this book for a class. While it did occasionally have some good tips, it was kind of a rambling book. Tristine Rainer seemed to feel the need to constantly explain herself to the reader, or apologize to the reader, which got annoying pretty quickly. It also felt like she believes her book has a lot more influence than it does; saying things like "It's my job to give you your voice" is pretty grating for any writer to read. I have my voice, thank you. I don't need or want your assista Meh. I read this book for a class. While it did occasionally have some good tips, it was kind of a rambling book. Tristine Rainer seemed to feel the need to constantly explain herself to the reader, or apologize to the reader, which got annoying pretty quickly. It also felt like she believes her book has a lot more influence than it does; saying things like "It's my job to give you your voice" is pretty grating for any writer to read. I have my voice, thank you. I don't need or want your assistance. That's not what I--or anyone--picked up this book for.

  29. 5 out of 5

    A. Catherine Noon

    I love Rainer's The New Diary, and when I started getting the itch to work on my autobiography, I decided to look around for books that talked about how to do one. I found this book and have devoured it. Her approach is friendly and scholarly at the same time. She takes you through the history of the form through to how to write your own without boring the hell out of the reader - no mean feat. Highly recommended. I love Rainer's The New Diary, and when I started getting the itch to work on my autobiography, I decided to look around for books that talked about how to do one. I found this book and have devoured it. Her approach is friendly and scholarly at the same time. She takes you through the history of the form through to how to write your own without boring the hell out of the reader - no mean feat. Highly recommended.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Maurice

    I'm only a few chapters in on this book but so far it's excellent. I just finished an exercise that had me take a momentous event in my life and turn it into a short fairytale. The compressed format forced me to be short on description and strong on plot points. I'm looking forward to reading more. I'm only a few chapters in on this book but so far it's excellent. I just finished an exercise that had me take a momentous event in my life and turn it into a short fairytale. The compressed format forced me to be short on description and strong on plot points. I'm looking forward to reading more.

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