Memoir Writing Prompts: Finding Your Writing Style

by Matilda Butler on April 12, 2011

Writing Prompt LogoPost #84 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Learning About Memoir at the Museum

I recently took the train to Seattle to see the Picasso exhibit in its last few days in that venue. The didactics on the wall and the audio tour provided a rich context for the paintings. The commentary about one painting, a self-portrait, pointed out the primitive brush strokes and other elements that demonstrated “Picasso was clearly channeling Cezanne.” It seems that Cezanne’s style, at one time, used similar brushstrokes.

The audio pointed out that when he painted the self-portrait, Picasso was an accomplished painter, already well known. He could have painted himself in a much more sophisticated way. Painters, I learned, sometimes deliberately take an older painting from a well-known artist and redo it putting his or her own twist on it.

As memoir writers, we may imitate the style of others under two circumstances. Early in our writing careers, we may read an author we admire and then find ourselves writing in that style. It is a natural part of growth as a writer. Over a period of weeks or months, our style may change, depending on which writer we have been reading most recently. Once you find your own voice, your own style, you probably won’t go back to that earlier period in your writing.

However, there is a good reason to deliberately imitate a well-known author as it will force you to think about your own style. Here are two writing prompts to help you learn about your own writing from those of others.

MEMOIR WRITING PROMPT

1. Read a few pages in a book by an author you admire. Read critically to understand what is it that you like. Focus on what makes those pages a window into the author’s style. Then write a paragraph of your own, using that style. Pretend you are that author. At the conclusion, reflect on what you learned both about the author’s style and your own writing. For example, what was the hardest part of crafting that paragraph? This would be an element not in your writing.

2. Take one of the paragraphs from the pages you read. Rewrite it using your style. In what ways is the result different?

No style is better or the best. But by conscientiously looking at the style of others and paying close attention to our own, we will refine our craft of memoir writing.

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Want to know a writer who has done this? Toni Morrison created a diagram of William Faulkner’s sentences. Then she crafted her own sentences to follow his diagram. You can do the same thing. Think of a writer you admire. Be analytical. See what you can learn.










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Janet Riehl April 18, 2011 at

How fascinating that Toni Morrison diagrammed Faulkner’s sentences! Diagramming is no longer taught in schools. But, it’s one of those old-fashioned skills that teach logic and structure. Of all the author’s whose sentences she might have chosen, Faulkner’s are the most like rambling rose bushes.

Janet Riehl

Matilda Butler April 18, 2011 at

Janet:

I agree. I guess if you want to assess your diagramming skills, Faulkner’s sentences would be the supreme test.

I remember sitting in English classes, diagramming sentences and crafting précis that had to be exactly 25 words. These were valuable lessons, although I may not have thought so at the time.

–Matilda

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