Memoir and the YA Writer

Memoir, with its uniquely intimate access into the personal truths and experiences of the writer, provides a glimpse into the author’s life that feels specific to the genre. Readers unfold awkward childhood memories, lingering regrets, and secret pockets of joy that the writer has welcomed them into. It is, in my opinion, what makes memoir such an intriguing style of work that beckons bold readers of all walks of life.

I’ve noticed a recent uptick in the consumption of memoirs across many audiences. Whether it’s a high-brow essay that’s unraveling the motives behind memoir or a TikTok offering ten different non-fiction novels to try reading, this category of writing seems to be gaining a lot more attention these days. 

I believe that much of memoir’s recent popularity has everything to do with the global pandemic. Now more than ever, people are reaching for each other in search of human connection, an aspect of life that we’ve been deprived of for over two years. People need people. We want to feel seen, heard, and understood. At its core, memoir is the epitome of humanity holding onto one another, even through intangible words, accessing each other through feelings and experiences.

Additionally, the memoir space has welcomed many new writers, straying away from professional biographies and leaning into the emotional, fresh perspectives that exist within humanity. Marginalized voices are finally being offered the space to tell their own, lived stories through literary platforms. Michelle Zauner, author of Crying in H-Mart and lead singer of indie rock band Japanese Breakfast, had one of the most talked-about books of 2021. Her debut memoir, Crying in H-Mart, made it onto the 2021 Nonfiction Bestsellers list, and had a global audience, specifically accessing young-adult readers. Zauner’s memoir is more than worth a read! With its raw sensitivity and endearing authenticity, the writer crafted an homage to culture, family, and healing. Besides it being a fantastic book, Zauner contributes to the argument that young people have stories worth telling and are extremely capable of telling them.

Throughout my venture into creative nonfiction writing, I’ve come across too many people who claim the genre is reserved for those who have “lived long enough to have experiences worthy of writing.” These are genuine words I’ve heard on social media, in respected publications, and from professors, professionals, and the general public. Not only does it dismiss young people’s experiences as unworthy of recognition, but it instills the idea that literature, specifically memoir, has an age minimum that must be met before one even considers sharing their story.

Young adult writers belong in the memoir-space, regardless of how some people feel about the genre’s age-exclusivity. Here are some of my humble tips for getting started:

Start small!

Writing creative nonfiction doesn’t mean you have to write your life’s novel. Begin by unraveling your own experiences in sentences, paragraphs, and essays. Let your work evolve with you as life unfolds.

Write what you know.

The beauty of memoir is that the writer has full control over the narrative because it is their own, lived story. There is a certain sense of agency that comes from sharing a story in which you are the main character, and the plot is simply your truth. Take pride in having that kind of autonomy!

Just be you.

Readers pick up a memoir to learn more about the writer. Flaws and all. As the writer it’s your responsibility to offer the most authentic version of yourself. With this comes a natural fear of acceptance, appreciation, and judgment. But, believe me, readers will love you for you!

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