Columnist and Author Meredith Maran discusses why we write about ourselves. She shares how she gathered the wisdom and advice of 20 memoirists for her latest book. Tips on how to keep writing when you want to quit as well as the risks and rewards of memoir. 

Why We Write About Ourselves, Edited by Meredith Maran
Why We Write About Ourselves Edited by Meredith Maran

After The Show Q&A

Meredith you’ve published a variety of novels, memoirs, and anthologies – given that the literary life can be quite a solitary profession, how do you connect with other authors to build a circle of trusted colleagues and friends?

The writing community I’m part of is the best part of being a writer, hands down. Before I moved to LA four years ago, I was part of a San Francisco Bay Area group called Word of Mouth Bay Area, a loose network of published women writers. We met occasionally and hiked and emailed often, supporting each other around the business of publishing, as well as the business of life. Since I’ve been in LA I’ve been delighted to find an equally rich community. We hike, we party, we go to each other’s book events, we babysit each other’s kids. It’s great.

What is the best self-editing advice you can offer to our readers and listeners?

Write every single thing you have to say in the first draft, then re-read and cut about 75% of it. Our readers have imaginations, too; they don’t need to know nearly as much as we think we have to tell them.

What were some of the biggest surprises about the publishing process that you learned?

Most writers don’t believe our books are actually going to appear in print until we’re holding our finished books in our hands. On the screen, in print-outs from our own printers, in galleys—it all seems unreal. And then suddenly it’s a book and you can’t believe you wrote the things you wrote and it’s too late to take them back!

For aspiring authors who are getting ready to query their work, what would your advice to them be as they face putting their work out for the first time?

Research, research, research. Go to a bookstore and find books like yours and read the Acknowledgments and make a list of agents who represent books that in some way resemble your manuscript. Look at those books, too, and compare yours to them. What can you learn to make your book more marketable?

You write for many popular publications like Salon.com – how did you navigate the submissions process? Is there any advice you can offer in terms of getting your foot in the door for new writers?

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a dramatic and unique story—you were married to Ben Affleck, for example, or you’re the first woman to summit K2—start small. Write for your local neighborhood paper, your local alternative weekly, whatever it takes to get a clip you can leverage into an assignment at the next bigger publication, and then the next. Rinse and repeat!

Thank you Meredith!

You’re welcome!

Author & Editor, Meredith Maran
Author & Editor, Meredith Maran

Meredith Maran is the author of thirteen nonfiction books and the acclaimed novel, A Theory Of Small Earthquakes. Meredith also writes book reviews, essays, and features for newspapers and magazines. Her next memoir is scheduled for release in 2017.

Listen to the full interview here: