School of Nonfiction with Shulem Deen

Every writer has his or her favorite list of writing rules. These are mine — and I think should be yours, too.

1. Memoir isn’t autobiography. Don’t give us your whole life; tell us a story from within it.

2. Find your narrative arc early on, and you’ll avoid having to trash a lot of your work.

3. You don’t need an “interesting life”; only the ability to see life in interesting ways.

4. Just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s interesting. Choose your scenes and details carefully.

5. Don’t come dressed in your best outfit. Be willing to embarrass yourself, at least a little.

6. If you’ve been wronged: press charges, file a lawsuit, or hire a hitman. But never be vindictive in your writing.

7. Write from your scars, not from your wounds. Go to therapy first if your feelings are raw and unprocessed.

8. Every chapter, section, paragraph, and sentence must have a cumulative effect. If it doesn’t propel the narrative forward, cut it.

9. Be truthful. This should be obvious.

10. Always remember: memoir might be about you, but it’s not for you. The reader’s needs come before yours.