Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog)
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Mark Twain on writing autobiography

October 10, 2011

Tags: autobiography, memoir, writing

Mark Twain's insights on writing a life story could keep many memoir writers from getting stuck: "Finally, in Florence in 1904, I hit upon the right way to do an Autobiography: start it at no particular time of your life; talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime.

"Also, make the narrative a combined Diary and Autobiography. In this way you have the vivid things of the present to make a contrast with memories of like things in the past, and these contrasts have a charm which is all their own. No talent is required to make a combined Diary and Autobiography interesting.

"And so, I have found the right plan. It makes my labor amusement mere amusement, play, pastime, and wholly effortless. It is the first time in history that the right plan has been hit upon."

From the first volume of Autobiography of Mark Twain, the first of three volumes collected by the Mark Twain Project (University of California Press)