Memoir Book Review–Your Memoirs by Hawley Roddick

by Kendra Bonnett on January 20, 2010

catnav-book-raves-active-3Post #36 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Raves – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

I first connected with Hawley Roddick on Twitter back in September when she asked if she could send me a copy of her book, Your Memoirs: Saving the Stories of Your Life and Work (Lulu Press, 2007). Naturally, I agreed to review it since we strive here at Women’s Memoirs to share as much information about books and writing as possible. I’d been to Hawley’s website and knew I was dealing with a thoroughly professional author. She’s a member of the Association of Professional Historians and makes a living writing, editing and ghosting memoirs for individuals and business owners. But I’ll confess, I wondered just how desperately memoir writers needed yet another how-to book. Your Memoirs made a believer out of me.


You can thumb through the 145 pages, which includes a sizable bibliography and 40 pages of lists and questionnaires (more about these in a minute) and say, well it’s a quick read and who knows, maybe I’ll pick up a tip or two. Start reading and you’ll find not only plenty of useful tips but a most enjoyable read by someone who has given the genre considerable thought.

Some Fresh Twists on Old Themes

Hawley breaks her Strategy and Technique section into dozens of digestible bites that are spot on and laced with vivid examples (anecdotes and brief vignettes really) that keep this a show-more-than-tell book. She starts with an interesting analysis of what she calls Temper Discretion. Here she gives practical advice for handling some of the stickier aspects of memoir–defining one’s own version of the truth, avoiding legal repercussions, and dealing with personal and family secrets.

She next launches into a quick analysis of character (she calls it Personality) and even includes a brief bit on the psychology of personality. She cites Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram as useful tools for helping the memoirist dig a little deeper and, perhaps, better understand herself or others.

Like most memoirists today, Hawley encourages writers to borrow heavily from the fiction writer’s toolkit, what we like to call creative nonfiction but is really just the essence of good writing. She includes the usual array of tools (i.e., sensory detail, language, voice, time and transitions) but also suggests some fresh elements–humor, suspense, myth and flashbacks. At this point, I need to remind you that in 145 pages, Hawley can’t teach you to write. What she has done most effectively is provide a refresher course and in many cases a fresh perspective on the familiar tools and techniques of our craft.

Mental Calisthenics

To those aspiring authors still slogging through that first draft, I recommend you put your manuscript aside and read Your Memoirs. Professional memoirists, you might consider a quick refresher read of Your Memoirs before you begin a project; think of it as a quick set of warmup exercises.

At the outset of this review, I mentioned the 40 pages of questionnaires and lists that make up Part Two of the book. Think of these outlines, lists and questions as a memoir toolkit. Hawley calls them her WriteAssets (r); they’re really a set of organizational tools to help you get started asking the right questions and considering all aspects of your life. She helps your get quite granular with your own memories or those of a client if you’re a personal historian working on someone else’s story.

I didn’t ask Hawley why she wrote this book, but she includes a quotation that I also found on her website that probably says it best. It’s from author Susan Cheever: “I believe that the memoir is the novel of the 21st century; it’s an amazing form….” I think Susan may be right–it also may explain reality TV–and Hawley Roddick has given us a useful handbook. If you write in this genre, you’ll want to keep Your Memoirs close by. Fortunately the binding is strong; it can withstand a lot of handling.






Leave a Comment

Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category News Category News Category News Category