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Self Checklist Memoir Assignment

Interview on Memoir Writing - Part 7

This is Part 7 of our conversation about memoir writing with Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler fromWomensMemoirs.com. Click here to return to Part 1 of the conversation.

In this portion of the conversation, Kendra and Matilda offer advice about revision and editing of a memoir.

A Conversation with Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler: Revising the Memoir

Matilda: I think a good point too is that there comes a time in the process of writing where -- of course, you should not have any kind of a censor. You should go ahead and write, but then there does get to be that point, once you have worked yourself through the story of the memoir, when you have to look at it and say you know, this doesn’t belong here. This is what I did -- I would just take my hand, and I would grab up in the air and I would say, I am really sorry but you just don’t make it and I would open the hand over the empty floor. And I would just think of it as my little cutting room. and I had to drop some of that. I had to say good-bye.

Because you never want to say goodbye to your words. You know, as Kendra says, I never met a word I didn’t like. But you have to sharpen your story. You have to have a clear line through your story. You have to think about what your message is and what your theme is. And, when you do that, then you have shaped a story that other people will want to read. But that means that there are some things that you might get really fond of, but they just don’t belong in the end of what you are doing. That’s what these stories were. They were these composite women, and I spent a great deal of time on them. I even had a picture for each of them, and I knew all the facts about them. I mean I had done a lot with them, and then it was an effort to sharpen was really what it was. Because when you have lots of people’s stories, then it is harder to have it as well focused. And this was our way of recreating the times and then the lives as they changed, but it didn’t make it and it didn’t belong there. And I had to grab it up from the air and turn around in my chair and drop it on the floor and say, “I am really sorry.” And I said goodbye to each of them, and that was it.

So everybody has their own little way of doing that. Some people just cross it out, and they are fine. I got kind of involved with these women’s lives, so I had to find my own little way of putting them aside.

Kendra: I think there is some worthwhile advice that could come out of all of this, and that is, if you’re not a writer -- and even if you are one -- it pays to use a professional editor at the end. It really does. Not only do they bring professional skills, but they bring another eye. They’ve seen many books, they’ve helped with many books, so they bring a sense of what the market wants too. They know things that the first-time writer doesn’t know. And these days, with all the cutbacks in the publishing world, as well as the number of people who are going to forms of self-publishing, you may not be offered an editor, so get your own. It’s worth it.

The other thing is, as you are working on your memoir, I think it is worthwhile to work with other people who are working on memoirs and sharing and learning from one another. We do our critique groups, and we find there’s a lot of strength and, in fact, some very enduring relationships that come out of those groups as they’re pouring these stories out. And you get to throw your story out there and discuss it with other people. And sometimes they’ll give you the insight into how to write something that maybe has been troubling you. So I think it is very worthwhile to try and find or put together a group.

Matilda: I think that’s a very good point to bring up here. Also, at the level of Kendra’s point about editing—one of the things that we recommend is that after you have written a piece, whether it’s a scene, a vignette, or a chapter, read it out loud and you will find a lot of your own problems. Even you will say, “Oh, that didn’t make sense,” or not only do you find when you leave out words et cetera, but you will actually hear it and you may find some of your own weaknesses in it when you do that. It is very different than just reading with your eye. If you go into a room where there is no one else and you don’t have to worry and read it out loud, it’ll really help you with your own writing. A simple technique. but it will really help you.

In the next part of our conversation about how to write a memoir, Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett talk about the process of writing their collective memoir, Rosie's Daughters: The "First Woman To" Generation Tells its Story, which won an IPPY National Book Award in 2008.

Memoir Writing - Next Steps

Click here to go to Part 8 of our conversation about memoir writing with Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett.

Check out our memoir writing competition. Read the memoirs submitted by other visiters and publish your own!

Get memoir writing ideas on this writing prompts page.

Read our interview with Heather Sellers about memoir writing.

See a list of all memoir writing topics.

<< BACK from Memoir Writing to Creative Writing Now Home

Before you begin, be sure to model and discuss each step of the writing process (prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing), preferably using a whole-class story or class newsletter article. Please note that the revising stage precedes editing. Student should have already worked through content revisions before reaching the editing step.

When they are ready for the editing stage of the writing process, students should edit their writing and then meet with a partner to engage in peer editing. Prior to having students use this tool independently, it is important to model its use. To do this, display sample text on an overhead projector, document camera, or SMART Board so that all students can view it. Model the use of the self-edit column with the displayed text, with you assuming the role of author. Then have a volunteer fill out the peer-edit column so that all students can hear and view the process. Finally, discuss what went well and what could be improved in the editing steps that were modeled.

This tool serves multiple purposes, including:

  • The self-edit step
  • encourages students to evaluate specific features of their writing, increasing self-awareness of writing conventions
  • keeps the pen in the writer’s hand for the initial editing phase
  • The peer-edit step
  • helps build a learning community in which peers work collaboratively
  • heightens the awareness of various print and grammatical conventions for the peer editor and the author
  • Use a fish-bowl technique to allow the class to view a self- and peer-edit session of two of their classmates. To do this, first choose one student to model the self-editing phase. It is helpful to select a student who has a good understanding of the criteria on the rubric, such as proper grammar and punctuation. That student works through the items in the self-edit column as the other students observe. It is helpful to put the editing checklist on an overhead projector or document camera so all students can see the process. After the self-edit is complete, discuss the process with the students. Next, choose another student to serve as the peer editor for the piece that was just self-edited.  Have the two students sit in the middle of the class so that all students can see and hear them as they work through the peer-editing phase. Afterward, include the entire class in a discussion about the process itself and ways in which the editing session will help the author and peer editor improve on their writing.
  • Have students work in groups of two or three to edit one piece of writing. The interaction between peers will help make the editing process more explicit. While the students are working in groups, move from group to group to check their understanding of the editing process and use of the checklist. Try to notice groups that lack comments in the “Comments and Suggestions” columns and encourage them to use this section to provide feedback to the writer, particularly for criteria that lack a check mark. To guide them, you could ask, “What do you think you could write in the ‘Comments’ section to help the writer fix this error?” Be sure to tell students that if they are unable to mark a check in the “After completing each step, place a check here” column, they must indicate the reason why they cannot check it in the “Comments and Suggestions” column.
  • Regularly review the editing process by using samples of students’ work or your own writing samples. Assess students’ progress of the editing process by creating a simple checklist. List all students’ names down the first column and a row for dates on which the editing checklist was used across the top. Then, as you observe students during the editing process, you can rate their level of effectiveness as an editor by using simple marks, such as:

    NO = Not Observed (use this for students you did not get to observe on that date)
    +  = exceeds expectations
    √  = meets expectations
    -   = below expectations

    Student NamesDate 1Date 2Date 3Date 4
    Student A
    Student B

    If you notice a student who receives a “below expectations” two times in a row, you can have him or her work with a peer who typically scores “above expectations” to model the process for him.

  • If your school uses a team approach for grouping students (a group of students who all share the same content area teachers), consider encouraging other team teachers to use this checklist in their respective content areas. Consistency in the editing process will help students understand that the editing process can apply to all written pieces, regardless of the content area.

Grades   5 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Digitally Telling the Story of Greek Figures

In this lesson students research Greek gods, heroes, and creatures and then share their findings through digital storytelling.


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