Jew­ish Book Coun­cil was hon­ored to present Shulem Deen, the author of the 2015 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards win­ner of the Myra H. Kraft Memo­r­i­al Award for Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Life and Prac­tice All Who Go Do Not Return, as the keynote speak­er at the annu­al Jew­ish Writ­ers’ Sem­i­nar last month. Lots of peo­ple mis­take mem­oir writ­ing for ther­a­py; I mis­took ther­a­py for sto­ry­telling,” he began his unfor­get­table address on rec­og­niz­ing the form of his writ­ing as a craft, rather than an indul­gence. For those who missed the speech in its entire­ly, Jew­ish Book Coun­cil is proud to pub­lish its con­clu­sion, a count­down of the most impor­tant rules for mem­oir writ­ing, accord­ing to Shulem Deen:

10. You don’t need to have had an inter­est­ing life”; only the abil­i­ty to see life in inter­est­ing ways.

9. Mem­oir isn’t auto­bi­og­ra­phy; its uni­fy­ing prin­ci­ple should be the­mat­ic, not just My Life.”

8. Just because it hap­pened does­n’t mean it’s inter­est­ing. Be selec­tive with both scenes and details.

7. Don’t come dressed in a three-piece suit. If your mem­oir doesn’t embar­rass you at least a lit­tle, you’re not doing it right.

6. If you’ve been wronged: press charges, file a law­suit, or hire a hit­man. Nev­er, ever, ever use mem­oir to get back at someone.

5. Write from your scars, not from your wounds. If you need to, do your ther­a­py first.

4. Find your three-act nar­ra­tive arc ear­ly on, and you’ll avoid hav­ing to trash hun­dreds of pages.

3. Sec­tions and chap­ters must have a cumu­la­tive effect. If it doesn’t pro­pel the nar­ra­tive — by help­ing to build ten­sion, or resolv­ing it — it does­n’t belong. Cut it.

2. Be truth­ful. This should be obvious.

1. Always remem­ber: mem­oir might be about you, but it’s not for you. It’s for your read­er. Respect that. 

Shulem Deen is a for­mer Skver­er Hasid and the author of the mem­oir All Who Go Do Not Return. His work has appeared in The For­ward, Tablet, and Salon. He lives in Brook­lyn, NY.

Relat­ed Content:

Shulem Deen is a for­mer Skver­er Hasid and the found­ing edi­tor of Unpious. His work has appeared in The Jew­ish Dai­ly For­ward, Tablet, and Salon. He lives in Brook­lyn, NY.