How to Write a Memoir Short Story

This guest post is by Clint Archer. Clint is a pastor and author. He and his expanding family live in Durban, South Africa, and he pities anyone who doesn’t. Read Clint’s blog, Café Seminoid or follow him on Twitter.
memoir short story

Photo by Woodley Wonderworks

As a child I was intrigued by how exciting my friend Josh’s life was. At every recess, he regaled his huddled audience with a riveting narrative of how he missed the bus and had to hitchhike without his mom finding out, or how his bicycle light failed him on a dark street at night and almost led to his early death.

Then, I realized that his stories were all everyday events that could have happened to anyone. The difference was that he crafted the story well. He set up the scene, introduced conflict, and brought the resolution with remarkable flare, and usually a twist of humor to boot.

And his vignettes came with a built-in platform because we all identified with his experiences. It wasn’t something happening in space or in the 1800s. The canvas was always everyday life.

This is the power of the memoir genre.

I have found that what I lack in the novelist’s imagination—it’s exceedingly difficult for me to create a story ex nihilo—I compensate for with my ability to see and describe drama ensconced in an ordinary setting. I have learned to cull plot lines out of my week.

Whenever I notice dramatic irony in my telephone conversations, poetic justice visited on my nosey neighbor, or a motif of rain at every birthday party I have attempted, I find fodder for a story.

Tips for Writing a Memoir Short Story

  • Write in the first person. This is your story.
  • When introducing someone new, be sure to use names of people as if they were already familiar to your readers. In other words, don’t introduce your wife as “Suzy, my wife,” just mention Suzy and use context to show her role.
  • Decide on one point you would like to convey. Use the story as the vehicle.
  • For fun: add some flare by alluding to a great literary work your readers would have heard of, or a current event with which your readers would be familiar.
  • Write with a particular readership in mind (e.g. your parents or your co-workers), and then sent them the story to read, as a gift. Create an eBook, print it on fancy paper, or simply e-mail it to them to cheer their day.


Take a moment to recall an everyday event that struck you as odd, irritating, coincidental, or serendipitous.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please comment on a few other posts, too.

Have fun!

Here’s my practice:


by Clint Archer

I always wondered if there was a worse title for a love story than Márquez’s “Love in a Time of Cholera.” But now I get it.

Kids are a breeding ground for infectious disease. The playground is a veritable petri-dish of viruses, bacteria, and various other contagions. Sometimes when my children snuggle up with their lubricated upper lips to kiss me goodnight, I wish I was wearing one of those sealed helmets Dustin Hoffman wore in the movie Outbreak.

This Valentine’s Day Kim and I spent a snotty, quarantined night at home with our infected offspring. Not exactly what Hallmark had in mind. We were both a bit put out by the anticlimax, sealed by cancelled reservations and a cowardly babysitter. But at least we had our health… sort of.

Though our three spotty, slimy littlies looked like they were auditioning for the role of a pizza topping, we were both unaffected by the plague. Immunity instills a flaming sense of invincibility. I can understand why people join the diplomatic corps.

Between intermittent vista to the bathroom with our viral wards in tow, my wife and I shared stories of our own childhood encounters with germ warfare. It occurred to us both that the reason we were now immune was due to the seemingly sadistic forethought of our mothers.

My imperviousness to measles of all stripes, chicken pox, mumps, and pretty much every other disease, came from an old-school type of inoculation: the “Please sneeze on my kid” exposure system.

When my mom heard that a child at school had been booked off for say, chicken pox she would urgently, and with some unmasked glee, schedule a play-date with patient zero.

Her theory was: Get all the sicknesses out of the way when you’re young, and then when your kids get it, you are healthy enough to look after them. It’s brilliant, in a macabre, sadistic kind of way.

But it was only this Valentine’s Day that the realization became lucid, like opening your eyes after the conjunctivitis has subsided. My mom got me sick because she loved me. It couldn’t possibly have been beneficial for her to have me whining like a delirious addict (I couldn’t recover gracefully from any malady). She was serving me, and her future grandkids in an act of unpleasant altruism.

On this near miss at a romantic evening, Kim and I could enjoy the benefits of our parents’ love for us, and pay it forward to our own whiny clan. I guess Kleenex, more than chocolates, helped me learn about love in the time of measles.


About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • Pingback: Announcement: Guest Post at The Write Practice()

  • Thanks for the opportunity to post. This writing community has been my personal coaching corner; it’s a privilege to chime in.

  • Patricia W Hunter

    Love this story and your writing, Clint. This is how I grew up…”lovingly” exposed to childhood diseases when I was young enough to not have them disrupt more important things – like school. Though, as I remember it, I was always the one with a communicable disease when everyone else was having fun at a birthday party.

    • Thanks for being communicable with your comments. 🙂

  • Nora Lester Murad in Palestine

    “Open the door for me, Im Yaseen,” my mother-in-law says to me. I don’t have a son, but if I did, he would be named Yaseen after my father-in-law. The other daughters-in-law who do not yet have sons are also called “Im Yaseen.”

    I hold open the screen door so she can walk through with a huge tray piled with herbs. She balances it expertly on the wall of the front porch in the sun so they can continue to dry.
    “I like shaywar more than I like maramiya,” I say reaching deep into the pile and inhaling deeply.

    “I like maramiya better,” she says. But then as if not to disappoint me she adds, “and I like shaywar, too.”

    “They aren’t familiar with this herb in Jerusalem. Did you know that?” The things I know better than my mother-in-law are limited to two categories: books (she is illiterate), and the world outside the Galilee (in her 73 years, she has barely traveled).

    “Pick out the yellow leaves,” my mother-in-law directs me. And she goes to the backyard to bring another tray of shaywar.

    I pick out the yellow leaves and get hypnotized by the sweet, rich smell and the delicate, curled leaves bursting from the little twigs. I think about the shaywar I have at home in an old yogurt container, given to me by my mother-in-law last time she dried a batch. I think about those little twigs and how they irritate me floating on the surface of my tea, making it hard to sip without spilling on myself. I decide, out of love for my mother-in-law, to make this batch of shaywar the cleanest batch ever.

    I slide the big pile of herbs to the far side of the tray and pull a fist -sized amount toward me. I pick up each twig and pull off the leaves. I move the leaves to one side and make a stack of little twigs on the wall.

    My mother-in-law sits next to me for a minute. Then she gets up and gets a plastic dish. She puts my little twigs into the plastic dish.

    “Did you pick this wild from the mountain?” I ask.

    “No, we cultivated it in our fields.”

    “From seeds?”

    “From cuttings that we picked in the wild.”

    “Does it grow insanely and out of control like mint?”

    “No,” she answers. “Not like mint.”

    And meanwhile, I am focused on cleaning every single twig of its leaves. Of impressing my mother-in-law by cleaning her shaywar better than it has ever been cleaned before. Of building up my stack of twigs.

    A young woman married to my husband’s cousin across the alley comes by for a minute and helps pick through shaywar. Then she leaves. Then my husband’s uncle’s second wife comes by and pulls up a stool and starts picking at the tray. My mother-in-law stands over me although there is a chair for her to sit in.

    “Hajji,” my husband’s uncle’s second wife asks my mother-in-law. “Why are you picking out those little twigs?” She motions to the plastic plate piled with twigs all lying neatly in the same direction.

    “Im Yaseen did that,” she smiles at me politely.

    “But they are flavorful,” my husband’s uncle’s second wife says to my mother-in-law, completely ignoring me. “Why do you waste them?”

    “Oh!” I snap out of my shaywar-cleaning trance. “Why didn’t you tell me, Hajji?”

    “I told you to pick out the yellow leaves.” And she dumps the stack of neatly piled twigs in the center of the tray of leaves.

    I’m not hurt. No one loves me more than my mother-in-law. But I’m a bit embarrassed. After nearly 30 years in the family, I can’t do even the simplest of tasks correctly.

    I lean back on the plastic seat and let my hands rest in my lap. I look at the pile of twigs on top of the leaves and it occurs to me that I am like them – belonging but separate, giving flavor, but looking like I don’t fit in.

    • Good use of the first person. Loved the last sentence.

      • Nora Lester Murad in Palestine


    • Marianne Vest

      She sounds like a character. I love how you write. You get in so many details without skipping a beat, like how she was illiterate and didn’t travel, and the description of the shaywar . I can see it now. Thanks for a good read.

      • Nora Lester Murad in Palestine

        I must be the luckiest daughter-in-law ever.

    • Nice – great detail and character descriptions and actions. I would love to read more.

      • Nora Lester Murad in Palestine

        I’ve never written non-fiction “memoir” before. Writing imaginary characters gives me more freedom. But I liked this exercise too! Maybe I will write more…

        • You have a knack for it. Keep it up.

      • Yes Heather, you nailed it: it’s the detail and vivid language that makes the story so engaging.

    • Me, too, Nora. I remember crying when my mother-in-law came to visit and she hated the American coffee I had made.

      What is shaywar, though? I know marimiya is sage…

    • Nora this is a lovely sweet little vignette, well written, well done

  • We lived in a tenement in Dublin, my mother and I. Dad had died of TB when I was really small. Mammy was a small tired woman who never had time to sit still, she did for three ladies and took in washing. Our flat always smelled of Fairy soap flakes and Robin starch. When it was raining and the sheets couldn’t dry outside mammy would send me to look for wood to put on the fire to warm the rooms.

    One day I was on this mission, jumping into puddles on the waste ground when I found a packet of flower seeds. It was brown with no picture but I could read the word, ‘Mimosa’, Mammy loved to read and one of the books she had borrowed from the Ladies at the Mission was “Told on the Pagoda” by Mimosa. She would read these fables from Burma, interlaced with stories of her father, an soldier in the Gurkhas, from the Karen part of the country.

    I ran home, not with timber but with my precious cargo. Mammy cried when she saw the seeds and we both went out in the rain to find a corner of earth for them to go in. We waited long days for the seeds to come up, I would run out in the morning to check before going to school and as soon as I got home in the afternoon I would rush out to look at the little pile of dirt.

    One day Mammy was singing and smiling when I got home, she didn’t look quite as tired or small. Running out I saw the tiny stems coming through the ground, I turned and hugged Mammy. We smiled together and had jam on our bread for tea. Our little plants seemed in a weird way to give us hope.

    We moved into the country before the plants grew and the tenements were razed, but we always had a Mimosa Tree in the garden in every home we ever had, we call them “Tree of Hope” from the story in Mimosa’s book, “The Vigil of Mah May” our favourite tale.

    • Oh Suzie, what a precious gift of hope for your mom – those seeds grew a lot of love and joy, even though you were not able to see them grow before you moved. What a tough life you lived. Hope you share more stories.

      • Hi Heather, thank you for your comment, it is not my story though, one of my characters.

    • Nora Lester Murad in Palestine

      Lovely–the setting, the relationship, the symbolism.

      • Thank you Nora, I am in a time of hope, so like to think of how to move people from hopeless to hopeful.

      • Here here.

    • AliceFleury

      This is a wonderful memory. I lived alone with my mother and brother as my father died in a car wreck when I was 2. so this touched me so. Thanks.

  • Marianne Vest

    Howie Butler (not his real name, his real name was stupider) was a spoiled brat and we, meaning my cousins, my sister and myself, didn’t like him. His main personality flaw was that he had a swimming pool. That was bad enough in itself in our non-airconditioned neighborhood in the summer, but what was worse was he wouldn’t invite anyone to swim his pool. Then, on top of his basic pariah-hood, he called my little sister a toothpick. My cousin Bob had to beat him up.

    Bob didn’t even hit him more than once or twice because Howie started crying and Bob was a softie, but Howie’s mother called Aunt Helen and told her about the fight. That caused Aunt Helen to yell at us, which gave her a headache, so then she made us stay outside until dinner, and then go back outside after dinner.

    We sat on the bank of the canal that ran behind the house and stared at the Butler’s house on the other side of the canal, and who come along but Howie. He didn’t get real close but yelled at us that he was going to the movies to see “The Time Machine”. He was like that always bragging about what he got to do, even when he knew we already hated him.

    So we decided that my cousin Barbara and I who were good swimmers would go for a swim in the Butler’s pool while they were at the movies. Bob was going to stand behind some trees at the end of the Butler’s driveway and whistle if he saw them coming. it was a good plan for a summer evening.

    The sun was setting when we climbed the Butler’s fence and ran to the swimming pool. They had a low diving board which was what I liked and I dove in over and over until all of a sudden as I was climbing out of the pool, I saw headlights coming down the driveway. I got out of the pool, climbed the fence and hid in the reeds down on the canal bank. Barbara however was on a float in the middle of the pool and couldn’t get out as quickly as I did. When she got to the bank she said “Did you hear him whistle”. I said I hadn’t but I’d been under the water. She said “Well I sure didn’t.” We giggled but it was one of those unhappy nervous giggles.

    When we got home and tried to get upstairs to change our wet clothes before Aunt Helen saw us.

    We were stopped dead in our tracks by Uncle Buddy’s voice, saying “Come here this minute.” The Butler’s had called. Aunt Helen was having heart palpitations now in addition to her headache (which was really a good thing in a way because Uncle Buddy didn’t ever hit us). Our punishment was to weed the yard of dandelions for free (we usually got a penny a bunch – and we didn’t think it was worth it so we never did it).

    Bob didn’t have to pick dandelions but he helped us anyway. We asked why he didn’t whistle and he told us that when he saw the Butler’s coming and tried to whistle, no sound came out, because he was so scared.

    We laugh about it now but it wasn’t funny then, when we were out in the sun weeding dandelions and Howie was in his pool across the canal, stupid spoiled brat Howie.

    • Nora Lester Murad in Palestine

      This is my favorite thing of all I’ve read of yours Marianne! I would love to see this in a movie!

      • Marianne Vest

        Thanks Nora. Bob was talking about it the other day. I won’t say how old we are not but it was an incident we all remember well.

    • This was very good and funny as well. I’m now curious to know Howie Butler’s real name.

      • Marianne Vest

        It’s a name that’s often used to stereotype dumb southerners. That’s all I will say. He might be lurking out here in cyberspace waiting to get me in trouble again ; ).

        • Good decision. It was probably something I should have incorporated in the post: be careful of using real names and even places. If people connect the dots and get embarrassed, you not only lose a reader, you end up entertaining others at the expense of someone else.

    • This was good, Marianne. You almost sound as if you still don’t like him.

      • Marianne Vest

        I did remember how much I disliked him as I wrote it. He was probably just socially inept but when we were kids we felt like everyone did what they did on purpose. We were kind of mean to put it mildly.

    • This is a great vehicle to identify with your readers, by using the name. We all have a Howie Butler in our memories.

    • It still astounds me how the Howie Butler’s of the world can affect us 20, 30 and even 40 years later. So long ago and you write as if it were yesterday. Love your writing, Marianne!

  • Marianne Vest

    I love that Clint. My mother did the same thing. She really worried about rubella because although she took us to visit several families who had it we never got it. Then when I was pregnant and was tested I did have antibodies for rubella so I had just had such a mile case that we didn’t’ know it. Oh for the good old days of measles, mumps, and chickenpox.

    • I hope our kids appreciate our efforts too! Poor little guinea pigs.

  • I love Clint Archer’s stories – we did pass around Measles, Mumps, and Chicken Pox around. I’m not so sure that all the vaccines we give our kids today are in their best interests – for there is little immunity against disease built up.

    Here is the start of my memoir, Tell Me What He Did – a happy scene, but hopefully foreshadowing the abuse that will follow later.

    “Run!” I yell to Pam. “They’re right behind you.”

    She dodges the boys, races past Mommy’s vegetable garden, and heads toward the maple tree in her backyard. If she touches the trunk, we win, and the boys will finally have to keep their promise to play house with us.

    I kneel behind the shrub. My side aches with each deep breath. Using the hem of my shirt, I wipe sweat off my forehead.

    Steve sneaks behind Pam and drops the hula-hoop lasso over her head. She kicks and screams as her brother drags her to the cave, the cinderblock barbeque pit in my backyard, and rolls a pretend stone in front of the cave door.

    Pam beats on the rock. “I can’t escape. They’re going to eat me.”

    Hula-hoop in hand, Steve turns toward my hiding place. “I’m coming to get you.”

    “No!” I race toward the tree, but Bobby’s guarding it, hands spread wide to grab me. Maybe I can circle around back.

    Looking over my shoulder to see where Steve is, I trip on a root, and fall. A piece of gravel jabs deep into my knee.

    I’m lassoed.

    “Wait a minute,” I say. “Let me see if I’m bleeding.”

    They stop trying to pull me, but don’t remove their lassos. I brush grass stains away and examine my knees. Good, no blood. Even though I struggle, the boys roughly drag me to the cave and shove me in with Pam.

    Rubbing my side, I glare at them.

    “Can we escape?” Pam asks.

    The cavemen laugh. “Never.”

    Pam and I pretend to be afraid. We tremble and huddle together.

    Steve pinches my arm. “Ugh, good meat.”

    “Owww.” I slap his hand away and bite back tears. He didn’t have to pinch so hard.
    Bobby rubs two twigs together to light a pretend cooking fire while Steve jumps around in a wild, caveman victory dance.

    A bell rings down the block.

    Ice cream! We run home to ask for money.

    I quietly open the screen door and tiptoe to the living room. If she’s sleeping, I won’t wake her.

    Mommy’s sitting in her green armchair, watching As the World Turns. Cigarette in mouth, she takes a curler out of her hair and tosses it into the basket with the others.

    “Mommy, can I please have a nickel for an ice cream?”

    She shakes her pointer finger at me. “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Her cigarette moves up and down as she talks and some ashes fall on her lap.

    I want to roll my eyes, but don’t. Putting my hands together in a begging position, I say, “Please, Mommy. Everyone else is getting one.”

    She sighs. “Hand me my purse.”

    I want to tell her to hurry up, but bite the inside of my mouth and quietly wait while she slowly puts her cigarette down, takes a sip of orange juice, and digs through her change to fish out a nickel.

    “Thanks.” I barely make it to the curb before the ice cream truck pulls up.

    Why such a big deal over a nickel?

    The boys race off after they get their treats. Pam and I sit under the maple tree in my backyard. I slowly nibble the chocolate coating off my ice cream bar, trying to make it last as long as possible. A drop of ice cream dribbles on my hand and I suck it off.

    Pam pokes a straw into her cherry sno-cone, “I don’t want summer to end.”

    “Me neither.” Not true. School’s safer than home.

    “In ten days, we’re going to have to get up early and sit in a stupid classroom.”

    “You’re lucky. There’s no homework in first grade. In second, I’ll have tons.”

    “Yech, homework.” Pam scrunches her nose.

    After we finish our ice creams she stands. “Let’s find the boys.”

    Throwing our sticks and wrappers in the garbage, we walk toward Pam’s house. Steve and Bobby jump out from behind the woodpile, grab us and shout, “Got ya.”

    I get so tired of boy’s games.

    A green Plymouth turns onto our street. Pam and the boys race toward my house shouting, “Shirley’s Daddy, Shirley’s Daddy.”

    My stomach churns as I head home.

    After Daddy pulls into the garage, we go to his car door.

    He says, “Hi, kids. Let’s see what I have for you.” He grabs Brach’s peppermints from the glove compartment and gives one to each of us.

    My friends say, “Thank you, Shirley’s Daddy.”

    Daddy hands me his metal lunch box and gets out of the car. His green Continental Can Company uniform smells like motor oil. He leans on me as we slowly walk toward our backdoor. Daddy’s breathing hard, like I breathe after running the mile at school.

    My friends go off to play, shouting, “Your dad’s the greatest.”

    • Nora Lester Murad in Palestine

      I got so deeply inside the children’s game, I completely forgot the rest of the world. You really transported me to my own childhood. Amazing.

      • Well said. I couldn’t put my finger on what made it so effective, but you’re right, Nora, the game sucks you in. Vivid image.

    • Good use of the present tense.

  • Great story, Nora. Clint mentioned that something a reader can identify with should be included in a memoir, and who among us has never felt a bit out of place, only to find out later that we were wrong.

    I liked your story, and the message as well.

    • Nora Lester Murad in Palestine

      I must say that it does get tiring to feel “a bit” out of place so much of the time, but now I see that it could be entertaining for others to read about. 🙂

  • I’m not used to writing events about my life so I don’t know if this is any good but here’s my exercise for today. Read and enjoy! 🙂


    So, there I was, driving on a normal Friday morning to work. I forgot what was being played on the radio at that time but I clearly remembered myself singing like a rockstar. Traffic was light and so I decided to put some speed. I softly pushed down on the gas and my car reached 60. I was about to cross an intersection when BAM! An SUV appeared on my left. It crashed into the rear of my mini.

    I lost control of my vehicle. I stepped on the breaks but the force of impact had me going. Fortunately for me, my whole life didn’t flash before my eyes (that’s a good thing right? It means you won’t die?). I was finally able to put my car to a stop, inches beside a large ditch (another lucky break). Rattled, I pushed open the door to the passenger’s side and got out (because the driver’s side was, like I said, beside the ditch).

    I ran to the back of my car and I saw the damage. The left, rear side of my vehicle was smashed in (days after this incident I had my car repaired. They had to repair the entire rear part). I looked behind my car and there was the red SUV with a dent on its front. It looked like it was glaring at me for not moving out of the way faster.

    The door opened and out stepped the driver—a female in her thirties wearing this huge sunglasses. She was wearing corporate attire and looked to be someone important. I strengthened my resolve. I won’t back down until I got paid. I stepped towards her and I said: “Why didn’t you stop? I clearly had the right of way.”

    She removed her glasses (and for a moment I was reminded of that CSI guy in TV). She answered back: “I was halfway across the intersection, you crashed into me.”

    We went on exchanging reasons as to who was right and who was wrong for a couple of minutes. Passers by were stopping and staring at us when finally a traffic enforcer arrived. That’s when I knew the occupation of my thirty-year-old enemy. She apparently was a legal attorney for our city’s traffic department. I watched her as she bullies the poor traffic enforcer. I watched as the poor guy shrunk before this sunglasses wearing, SUV driving, attorney.

    She scolded the poor guy for not being present to direct traffic. She asked his name and the guy reluctantly gave it. After demoralizing him, she looked back at me. Pretty much then and there my resolve to win was destroyed. Luckily for me (again), her anger seemed to have been emptied out already (thanks to the poor traffic guy). We talked about letting our insurance company handle everything. She apologized and she told me that she’ll pay.

    She barked a command at the traffic enforcer to assist us to the police station to file a police report (needed by the insurance company). He quickly rushed to his motorcycle and we followed him down to the station. Everything went smoothly after that. She actually gave me her number. She told me: “I’m sorry for what happened. If you ran into some problems or have your license confiscated or something, just call me.”

    Months after this crazy incident, I did have my license confiscated. Unluckily for me, I lost her number.

    • I’ve been in three accidents in my life–two of them my fault (and not because I was writing!). Reading about other people’s accidents is like remembering my own. One minute you’re driving along, and the next you discover how much you take normality for granted, and wishing you had it back.

      Was your license confiscated over this incident? How strange.

      • No, it wasn’t confiscated because of this incident. That’s a whole new story. 🙂

        • Ooh, a sequel short story. Good idea.

    • Marianne Vest

      That’s terrible JB, but at least she didn’t cow the traffic policeman into saying it was your fault. I like the part where you are singing like a rock star. It’s a shame you lost that number, but it sounds like she wasn’t someone whom you would want to be reminded of even if she could have been helpful. The description of her is great. It makes me cringe.

      • Just as Marianne said, cringing is a great response from a reader (though not from a paramour!) Cringing is one of the great proofs that words can get under your skin and pull you into the moment.

    • Another aspect that makes this such a great example, is that the subject matter is easy to identify with. As another commenter mentioned, it really makes you remember you own vehicular trauma. Nice work.

  • I’m more used to journal writing, than memoir writing. So I don’t know how wide of the mark this attempt will be. And I had to use a prompt for it: “Write about a time you changed your mind.”

    I went to the travel agent and booked an airline ticket for San Fransisco in an age before I could hop online and do it myself. The travel agent told me that once I got my tickets, if I changed my mind and cancelled, there would be a thirty-five dollar cancellation fee. I didn’t expect to cancel them. They would be ready for me the next day.

    I told the someone-I-wanted-to-be-significant-in-my-life that I was going off for a few days to California. I lied to him about who I was going to visit. In retrospect, I don’t feel guilty about lying to him because I was an independent woman at the time, accountable to no one but myself. But this someone gave me an ultimatum: “Don’t go to San Fransisco. If you do, I walk out of your life.”

    I cancelled the tickets.

    This incident is probably another example of my desperation to be attached to anyone, no matter what. I had an unspoken fear–a fear that I never even articulated to myself until much later–that if I didn’t grab at the first opportunity of a good, eligible male candidate, then I wouldn’t have any meaningful and committed relationship at all. Ever.

    It’s quite possible that I might never have met anyone if I’d have let him go, and grown into a spinster aunt. I suspect, however, that it was only a delusion. I figured out that I’m not so undesirable that I had to scrape for bottom feeders. But then I am looking at the past through the eyes of a woman who is married to a man that thinks the world of her. When you know you are loved, there isn’t that desperation to find it no matter the cost.

    That said, I did good to cancel those tickets.

    • Good work. Try adding information about the time, your general age, and the setting in the opening paragraph. You gave the city name, which helps. What other info would make it more vivid?

      • I’ll rewrite it with that in mind. Is detail in memoir like detail in fiction– use only if it contributes to the story? Or is there another rule to follow?

        It seems that this type of writing involves some seriously reflection on what you learned. Is that the point of writing a memoir? 🙂

        • Life is beautiful, and worth sharing. That is the point of a memoir. Details are essential to create the feel of it being a real story about true events. Don’t overdo it though; it is a *short* story after all.

    • Marianne Vest

      That’s kind of sad in a way. It’s too bad you couldn’t have gone to San Francisco and still have married the guy. I like his long title with the hyphens.

      • Isn’t it?

        It turned out to be a good thing I didn’t go though, and I knew it at the time, even if I really wanted to go– and not because I married my husband. 🙂

  • Coming inside after a long afternoon I could see Mom on the couch, dead asleep — again — same as yesterday and the day before, and the day before that. Since Dad left all Mom did was lay on that love-seat, smoke her pall-malls, drink those orange-colored drinks, and watch her ‘stories’ on the boob tube.

    “Maggie, I’m hungry.”

    “Me too, Jeffry.”

    “What’ll we do, Maggie?”

    “Let’s turn the TV louder, maybe that will wake her up. You do it Jeffrey, your Mom’s favorite.”

    I turned the knob a little, the TV seemed too loud.

    “It’s too loud, Maggie.”

    “Just leave it, that should wake her up.”

    I was glad Dad left the TV. He threatened to take it. I heard him. He screamed.

    “I’m taking that goddamed TV, maybe then you’ll get off your ass and do something.”

    She didn’t.

    I didn’t like it that Dad left, but I did like watching the Flinstone’s. It was my favorite show.

    My sister and I watched the deafening TV for a while and still, Mom slept. Fred and Barney made us laugh, but I was still hungry. Finally I got up and went in the kitchen. Mom kept the good stuff on top of the fridge. I couldn’t reach without climbing on the counter. Mom threatened that if she caught me up on that counter one more time, she would give me a beating.

    Maggie gave me a boost. She was scared of Mom more than I was and made me swear I wouldn’t tell. I didn’t mind the beatings. Mom used Dad’s belt, and even though it hurt, I wouldn’t let her see me cry. Sometimes she would swing that belt until she got exhausted, and that would really make her mad — I think she wanted me to cry, but I wouldn’t.

    Standing on the counter I could finally see on top of the fridge and the big box of donuts, chocolate and maple. mmmmm!

    I felt a sudden, nauseous, quiver in my stomach. There behind Maggie stood Mom, glassy eyed and ready to pounce. Mom grabbed Maggie by her hair, pulled her backwards as she screamed and tossed her aside. She was coming for me and I couldn’t move. Impossible, I thought, we did everything to wake her and now this.

    “Get down from there Jeffrey and go and get your Dad’s belt!” Mom screamed.

    • That’s a good example of the style. I especially liked your use of dialogue. Snippets of conversations are how we remember moments in our life. Good job.

  • mlreadsandwrites

    My brother Tom, eighteen months to my junior, and I lovingly shared many things in our youth, back in the wonderful years of the fifties and sixties. But one event I was not going to accept from him no matter how much we loved each other.

    The year was 1961, June to be exact, the last day of the first grade with Mrs. McLaren. My life would soon became a series of warm summer nights, bike rides, swimming, mosquito bites, running barefoot and wearing shorts.

    I happily cleaned out my desk, bringing home used workbooks and old papers signifying: school’s out for summer. My first full year of school was completed.

    But a cloud of the doom was hanging over the day.

    The night before my brother was struck with the red measles, or as my mother would say, “hard measles.” It landed at our house with the horrid stench of vomit (down the side of the couch-a side I never sat on until it was recovered) and a high fever. My mother diagnosed his virulent strain of spots and symptoms in a matter of minutes. This was not to be taken lightly. I, his loving older sister, would have to be protected from the ensuing dangers measles could bring.

    Protection meant one thing: a shot! A hypodermic needle of unknown length to a six year old little girl like me was the behemoth of terrors. After an emergency stomach pumping at age two, I had developed a fear of anything medical or dressed in white, and a shot was the H-bomb.

    Remember since this was the last day of school and we were cut lose at noon, I had some time to set up my strategy and attempt to sell the idea to my mother regarding the pending injection, and how it was so unnecessary. A waste of her time and mine.

    “I’ll simply come into the house by the front door and go directly to my room and shut the door. I’ll stay there as long as need be, weeks-doesn’t matter. I’ve got all summer. I’ll eat in my room. I won’t be anywhere near Tom. Therefore, no need for a shot.” Simple, clean cut and best of all, shot free.

    It was a no-sale, an adamant no-sale. Fell in its entirety on deaf ears.

    Before the sun set, on the last day of school, I was hauled to the clinic, the old St.Luke’s Pediatric Department with its yellow painted walls so firmly housed in my memory, and given a penicillin (I presume) shot on my cute little back side. A shot that was intended to lessen the severity of the measles, so lovingly shared by brother.

    Funny, in thinking back, I do not remember every getting those dreaded measles.

  • A few years ago while Cassie was visiting, we were preparing for bed. She glanced out the window and mentioned it was a “Brucie” moon.

    “Brucie moon?????” I asked.

    Cassie explained that before I was born, or when I was very little and too young to remember Mom named the different stages of the moon based on age. Bruce was the full moon, Jean the half moon, and Cassie the quarter moon.

    “So what’s a Barbie moon?”

    She thought a moment, pondering the question.

    “I don’t know. I don’t know if there was one.”

    I was a bit dejected; another instance where I was left out. But I was able to rescue the moment. I turned my back to her, bent over, and lifted my nightgown over my bare bottom.

    A few months later, during a family gathering someone used the word moon, which sent Cassie in to a spasmodic laugh attack as she recalled my “moon walk”. This prompted a retelling of the tale.

    Bruce started laughing so hard his lips started to turn blue, he was practically cyanotic.

    “That was no moon. That was a planet. The planet Uranus”, he sputtered.

    I gave him a seething look. “Bruce, I’m tired of being the butt of your jokes.”

    It’s not our fault. It must be genetic.

    • Awesome. I love memoir humor. Good application of the genre.

      • Thanks for the encouragement. I just popped over to your blog page and read your bio. Lab named Spurgeon, huh? I’ve got a Lab/Beagle mix named Grace. Ironically, I refer to her breed as a Leagle. No wonder my theology gives my pastor fits!

        • Leagle is still better than a Bab. Just don’t invent a hybrid doctrine!

  • Kanekoa82

    In the late 90’s when homelessness hadn’t touched many lives in our small town. My friends and I took a break from a hard day of playing our national past time to have a bite at Burger King. It was like any other day, checking out girls and poking fun at each other. To my surprise this day proved to be different.

    Halfway through our meal, a scruffy man walked in bringing with him an undesirable aroma. Drawing our attention, we turned to see where the funky smell was coming from and was quickly met with somber eyes. We swiftly put our heads down and tried to avoid eye contact. I had never seen a homeless person that close before and the unease of the customers seemed to heighten my concern.

    Moving from table to table, I could hear him asking for a few dollars to eat. Some would ignore him completely while others revealed that they would if they had any, which was certainly an excuse. None would open their wallets.

    Once he was one table away my friends that were from upper middle class homes started to fidget. I knew they all had a few dollars to spare but from the looks on their faces they weren’t going to give them up. Would I?

    When the time came and my friends said nothing, his eyes made contact. At first, the words, “I’m sorry”, wanted to leave my lips. However, looking into his sorrowful soul, I determined that my dollars could do more good in his hands.

    Giving up my dollar bills, I watched as the homeless man walked out of Burger King with my money. Never ordering the burger he had begged vehemently for. Feeling foolish and gullible my friends made sure I understood it was idiotic as well. Unable to defend my position I absorbed all their jokes with a smile.

    Then as fate would have it my friend kicked me in the shin. “Oww! What the heck!”

    “Look down.”

    Following his gaze I was astonished to find ten dollars at my feet. I had given the man a five-dollar bill and as the old saying goes, “What goes around comes around.”

    • Good job. Isn’t it great to have opportunities to retell of those “novel moments”? This is the genius of the memoir genre.

      • Kanekoa82

        Thank you. Only recently I’ve come to realize how important it is to write down my past experiences. Whether it be for entertainment or for the lessons of my posterity. Hopefully they won’t repeat the mistakes that I’ve made and just make new ones for themselves.

        • Journalling is a great tool to exercise these literary muscles, and also provide our offspring with reading material later in life that may prove meaningful for them.

    • Mikayla

      Great story, and you did a good job of telling it.

  • FYI, Joe and Clint: I’m using this blog post as one of my blogging examples in my “Writing Compelling Blog Posts” class tonight at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I define blog posts in four categories, and I am using this as an example of “experiential,” which is a post that uses personal sharing to convey instruction. Thanks for a great post.

    • Thanks Patrick!

      Now I want to know what the other three are 🙂

    • I’m honored. I wish I could sit in on that class (the commute from Africa is a killer).

  • I think I went past the time limit. 🙁 Sorry, but here’s my practice.


    A Checkup

    I waited patiently for my name to be called by the stern looking nurse in our school clinic. I started to wonder why we even have this annual physical checkup when we’ve already done it last year. I didn’t think was dying or anything.

    When my name was called, I stood up and walked to the small room with a single bed. The attending doctor smiled at me. She had a pretty smile. She asked for my information sheet and made me lie down. “Could you please unhook your bra?” she asked politely. I did as I was told and laid down on the bed.

    She listened for my heart beat with her stethoscope and I felt its coldness sink into my skin. She asked me to place my arms over my head so that she may check my breasts for any lumps or any irregularities. I nonchalantly obeyed and forced myself not to giggle as I was very ticklish.

    But then, her smile turned into a more serious look and asked, “Does this hurt?”, as she pressed gently down the side of my right breast. I winced, and nodded. “A bit,” I said to her.

    I looked at her facial expression and knew something wasn’t right. Her brows were becoming one.

    “You’re going to have to visit your gynecologist before I can give you your clearance,” she explained as she took out her pen and a small piece of paper. She asked for my identification number and I asked, “Is there something wrong with me?”

    Her serious face shifted to a smile as she said, “No dear, it could be nothing. But it would be better if you have your breasts checked by the gynecologist and see what she’ll say.” I nodded and thanked her as I wonder what caused my breast to hurt.

    A week after my checkup at school, I visited the gynecologist my friend recommended. I was asked by the secretary to fill up a patient’s information sheet, weighed me and asked when I had my last period. I answered each question and did as I was told.

    I waited for half an hour before I was able to meet the doctor. Within that half an hour, I was able to see and listen to pregnant women talk about their pregnancy and how they’re coping with the eating, the pain and all the things women have to deal with when they’re pregnant.

    Inside the doctor’s office, I was asked to do the same thing I did when I was in school for my checkup and this doctor also frowned upon feeling something on my breasts.

    She went back to her seat when she was done examining me and wrote “sonomammogram” on her official letter head. She said I would have to get an ultrasound to check on how big the lumps – yes, plural – in my breasts were. She said not to worry because they were benign.

    I must have made a funny looking face when she explained because she laughed and said, “Benign means it’s not harmful. You don’t have cancer and the lumps are round and very movable.” She gave me a smile that said “It’ll be all right.” But I wasn’t so sure it was going to be all right.

    • Ok, so, I’m not sure I’m going to be alright after reading that. Just kidding. What a great use of your personal experience to draw in the reader. I felt like I was waiting for the results myself (well, except for the breast part). A common issue with this type of memoir narrative is that people often what to know what happened next. It may have been your intention to leave it open-ended, but in general make sure you give closure in a short story. If it’s a part of a longer piece, then fine. I have been rebuked for resolving one part of my story (the main point, in my opinion) but forgetting to tie up the loose ends of another part that my readers picked up on. Good work.

      • I’m sorry if it’s a bit weird to be writing about breast lumps in public. Ha ha.

        I didn’t know how to write out the results when I got to the ending. But it’s a good ending. 🙂

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  • A magnificent post, indeed. Actually I think it’s the sign of a true writer. So many would-be writers think they have nothing to say when in fact, as you poignantly illustrate, storytelling is just capturing the divine in daily life. When we cultivate it as a single event we can begin, or as you say, decide what point to convey. Finding the arc by asking yourself what happened, what changed.
    I’m still working on your ‘fun’ point. Practicing with metaphors and similes. Need to infuse more fun with the literary, cinematic, and current event references.
    Cheers y saludos,

  • Mikayla

    Last February, I experienced something new: a party with my friends. My
    birthday parties were usually just family and maybe one friend, but
    this time I got to invite several friends.

    Lupe arrived first. She and I have been growing apart for a
    while, so it was awkward with just her there. I talked to her for a
    few minutes, then the others got there.

    When everyone had just arrived, we hung out in the hallway at first
    because it was a little awkward. My mom had hired a girl to do our
    nails, so when she arrived we all went into the living room where she
    got started on our nails. At that point, everyone started having

    I hadn’t seen, Lara or Duu’aa in a while; I got to catch up with them
    then, which I very much enjoyed. Lara is often stressed out. That
    night, however, she was in a very good mood so we had fun just
    talking. I hadn’t seen Duu’aa in over a year, so I was very excited
    that she was coming. I was happy to see her and Lara and just talk
    them. The conversations themselves weren’t anything special; it was
    just seeing two friends I’d missed that made me so happy.

    Ashley had drunk too much coffee earlier that
    day, so she was very hyper. This made the party more fun, because she
    kept laughing at everything, which made me laugh. That was the most
    fun I had in as long as I can remember. Nothing could bother me that
    night. I don’t have much of a social life; despite this being my
    sixteenth birthday party, it was the first time I’d had lots of
    friends over and it put me in the best mood I remember ever being in.

    This experience reminds me of what God said in Genesis: “It is not good
    for man to be alone.” To me this says that I need to become closer
    to my friends, because I long for deeper friendships.

    This party is a wonderful memory to me. I thought I held on to it because
    I felt so happy that night, but looking back now, I realize that it’s
    more than that. I held on to this memory because it was a time that
    I had a taste of something I want so badly- lots of close friends.

    Grandma says that because I never went to school, I never learned how to make
    friends. I think she’s right about that. However, while I never
    gained social skills that other kids have gained from going to
    school, I gained something much more precious- a solid foundation in
    my Catholic faith.

    Being raised in a strong Catholic Christian environment, I was sheltered
    from many bad influences. I do wonder what would have happened if I
    had gone to public school, but I am grateful to my parents that I
    wasn’t. It would probably have been much easier for Mom to put my
    siblings and I in school and let others take care of us during the
    day, but she didn’t do that. She loved us enough to sacrifice the
    time that many other mothers have to themselves during the school day
    and to sacrifice in many other ways also. She continues to do so

  • Debbi

    “Flashback in the Dental Chair”

    by Debbi Mack

    I was at a dentist appointment today, when I had the weirdest flashback ever. My hygienist said that my bone density was getting lower. And I thought “My God. How low can my bone density go?” I was so worried, because my teeth are crap. Thanks to my horrible aunt!

    See I had to go live with my horrible aunt, who was like ten times worse than the Wicked Witch of the West. And my uncle was a weak and useless man who never stuck up for me or himself for that matter.

    Anyhow, one day while I lived with them, I told them my teeth hurt. And I said, “Hey. Maybe I should go to a dentist?”

    So … they took me to the dentist. I was 13-years-old mind you. And the dentist looked in my mouth and said, “Oh, my,” or something like that.

    See, I had so many cavities they had to set up a bunch of appointments for me. And then, the dentist also said, “I’m afraid I’ll have to pull one of your teeth, because it’s so rotten.”

    At that point, I nearly jumped out of my chair and said, “I’m sorry. This isn’t supposed to happen. I’m not supposed to lose my teeth at age 13! This can’t be happening!” But it was, so instead, I just felt like crap.

    And then my horrible aunt, who had the nerve never to take me to the dentist on a regular basis, she said, “You know, it’s pretty much your fault that this happened. It’s partly our fault, but mostly your fault. So … be more aware, okay?” Or something.

    Well, I didn’t believe her. I knew she was nuts. And, thanks to that horrible woman, now I have a mouth full of rotten teeth. Well, actually, thanks to her and another aunt and uncle who didn’t do right by me in the dental department. But that’s a long story and I only have 15 minutes.

    So, anyway … I had this flashback in the dental chair. So while the hygienist was yapping about whatever, all I could think was, “Boy, I wish I could bring my horrible dead aunt back to life, so I could kill her all over again. That would be awesome!” Preferably with a machete.

    But, actually, i wouldn’t really do that, because I’m a goddamned pacifist. Oh, well …

  • Kristen

    It was a couple of months before our wedding and was working as a nurse on the Progressive Care Unit. Eversince I had gotten engaged it seemed that everyone had marriage advice to bestow unto me. It was as if I was holding sign with a basket “Heading to the altar, drop advice here”. Some of the advice was cliche “don’t go to bed angry”, “laughter is the best medicine”. I would smile, give the polite head nod and thank them.

    One day while typing away at my computer, casually engaged in conversation about marriage with the nurse next to me, the case manager who was sitting behind me spun her chair around and dropped her pearl of wisdom into my imaginary ‘drop advice here basket’. “Don’t have any expectations” she quickly said. She always spoke super fast, I thought I missed what she said. She then repeated it, her index finger waving in the air, shaking her head “Don’t have any expectations”. I remember thinking ‘that sounds weird, of course I have expectations’ I mean come on, we will both be wearing rose tinted glasses and gaze lovingly into each others eyes every night, right? I was perplexed, but listened as she gave an explanation.

    Her words “Don’t have any expectations” hung in the air and stuck onto me, but I was still unsure of what they fully meant for me. That first year of marriage I remembered that advice about expectations and my idea of marriage being like a romantic movie. I then realized what the case manager had meant. Of course you have the general expectation that your husband will posses moral standards. But my discovery of the meaning behind that phrase was “let it go”, “don’t cry over spilt milk”, “go with the flow”. If he doesn’t come home with flowers, no biggie; if he doesn’t remember every detail of the conversation I had with him while he was fixing the lawnmower, that’s ok; if he forgot to pay the bill on time, I’ve done that too.

    By no means was this an easy lesson for me and by no means do I have this down pat. In no way am I perfect in this area, I fail all the time. Which is amazing because Jeremy is very patient with me, thank you 🙂 But embracing this idea helps me to be pliable. It gives me permission to be easy going, to be graceful, and to be gentle. I think back on those words about expectations with appreciation and realize why they stuck with me.

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  • B Lynn Goodwin

    Written a short-short memoir? Why not get some feedback and enter it in Writer Advice’s Flash Memoir Contest? Deadline is March 1, 2016. Details and Submittable link are at

    Writer Advice Managing Editor,
    Author of YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers & Author of TALENT

  • Brittney Renée Stinnett

    My self-despise builds rapidly inside of me and the overflow of hatred hurls me with a furious rage to rock bottom. I know this place very well. I surrender my strength in exchange for momentary comfort. I eagerly erode my nose with the white rails I inhale so graciously. The numbness I crave intensifies with every drop that falls in the back of my throat. The drip that once repulsed me has quickly become my favorite part. The taste reminds me of the danger, but I am far too exhilarated by this euphoric anesthetic.

    I am addicted, and I am afraid.

    My regard for life is lost in the nothingness I risk everything to feel. I consider the possible outcomes of the murky waters I struggle to tread, but in the end I disregard the peril of the behavior I am all too eager to incorporate into my daily life.
    I push myself to test the limits, frighteningly comfortable in my awareness of the self-destructive lie that I will catch myself before I fall. I step with hasty fearlessness as I walk the fine line that separates reality and delusion. I am clearly slipping from sanity, but it matters not, for I flirt wickedly with Death. The presence of danger is clearly felt, throwing a bittersweet darkness over everything I know.
    The words my mind is trying to release evade me, my mouth unaware of how to speak them. My brain hasn’t worked right since you’ve been gone, short circuiting daily.
    I walk down this road paved with shattered glass. I keep running in circles, reveling in the senseless chaos I have allowed my life to be enveloped in. I silence sense and reason with addiction in its most menacing form, feeling indestructible in this self-assured lie. I repeat this cycle of insanity as I continue to allow myself the comfort of becoming lost.
    My biggest fears are threatening to come true, yet here I am, running another circle, emotionless and numb to everything except these words that are flowing through me. I am able to say what I would otherwise struggle with through the intoxicating release of my inhibitions.
    It’s funny, life. The same addiction that is slowly killing me is the very thing that is helping to save me. It allows me to release my pain and set my mind at ease, a process that I have discovered to be a dangerous necessity. My only hope is that my words leave me more quickly than my life. My desire to die overwhelms me at times, teasing me with a promise of painless nothingness. Nevertheless, I shall remain in the darkness, restraining myself from the seductive pull of the light.

    I am addicted, and I am lost in the high.

    Cuts begin to take over my skin as I continue down this dangerous path of my shattered soul. I’m now stumbling erratically through the shards, awaiting the inevitable collapse that will soon befall me. This wretched inordinate helplessness leaves me feeling powerless. But I press on, running with tired legs as I search in vain for a desire to live that is strong enough to overpower the temporary pleasure of my escape.
    So here I remain, tragically devoted to the coming of my own demise. I am tortured by the demons I’ve long struggled with, pulled directly from the horrifying places only found within the darkest shadows of NY nightmares.
    At last, I shall surrender, for death no longer seems foreboding. No, death has become an alluring image, a preview of the serenity that awaits me in the untroubled peace that beckons me to the end.
    I no longer possess the desire to break away from the chains that bind me to this tragic euphoria that embraces me, leading me to eternal rest at a frighteningly rapid speed. I hold on, but not too tightly. If tonight is the night I shall meet my maker, I will welcome him with open arms, slipping quickly to the other side of his scythe’s blade. The feeling of peace intoxicates my senses, no longer afraid of what will happen after I have killed the vessel in which I reside.

    I am addicted, and I no longer care.