Building a Memoir of Chapters or Essays

Quoted How Are Your Chapters Doing Today? by Jami Attenberg (CRAFT TALK)

I turned my attention to my manuscript. Originally it was to be a collection of essays, and I would write some new material. I was imagining it to be sixty percent new material, something like that. I had written so many essays the last twenty years of my life, couldn’t I do something with them?

Essays can be chapters, but of course chapters aren’t necessarily essays. And now, in this big revision I am doing, it is becoming clear, most of these chapters are not meant to be essays – not classic, beautiful, pristine essays. They are chapters in a book about my life, they are stories I am telling. And they have to give way in service of the narrative…

I’m not trying to say that an essay collection cannot form a narrative, a picture of a writer’s life…The most successful I have been artistically with my work has been when I let the chapters be what they need to be in the realm of the bigger book.

All of these actions alter the pristine essayistic nature of the chapters. Were they to remain essays, with these changes, they could not exist on their own in the universe as successful ones. But I do not care anymore, because the chapters will now serve the book better, and I now only care about the success of the entire book.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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