One of the questions about memoir we hear most often at the Amsterdam Writing Workshops is: How much freedom do we have to invent? Is “making things up” in this kind of narrative the same as lying? Consider what the accomplished memoirist Vivian Gornick has to say.

Memoir: Why Has It Become So Popular?

“The first frankly confessional writing in American literature seems to have been F. Scott Fitzgerald’s painfully candid “The Crack-Up.” This is memoir in the guise of self-abnegation and exposure. Fitzgerald was a Catholic, and perhaps it is a Catholic gesture of ‘confession’—in this case openly, lavishly. Then, in the late 1950s and 1960s American poetry… Read more

Lidia Yuknavitch

“Everything that’s ever happened to you is alive inside your body. Your body carries your experiences with you. That ache in your lower back is a story. Where desire ignites on your body is a story. The way you get an eye twitch when you talk or think about certain things is a story. When… Read more

E.L. Konigsburg

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for people who want to be writers? E.L. Konigsburg: I always give one word, and the word is: finish. The word is finish because I think the difference between being a person of talent and being a writer is the ability to apply the seat of your pants to… Read more

Henry James

“James transfigured the novel form, or at least offered it the possibility to be something entirely new. If I were asked to identify the place where he effected this change, I should point to chapter 27 of The Portrait of a Lady—‘obviously the best thing in the book,’ in the author’s opinion— when one night… Read more


“A rational fear of plagiarizing, and an individualistic valuation of originality, have stopped many prose writers from using deliberate imitation as a learning tool. In poetry courses, students may be asked to write ‘in the manner of’ so-and-so, or to use a stanza or a cadence from a published poet as a model, but teachers… Read more


“There is no need to wait for inspiration, no need to find your confidence; no need to know exactly why or what you’re writing; no need to read wise and thoughtful books about how to write; no need to know your story; no need to understand your characters; no need to be sure you’re on… Read more

Humor Writing

“I actually think of being funny as an odd turn of mind, like a mild disability, some weird way of looking at the world that you can’t get rid of. It’s odd: one of the questions that people ask me constantly is, Is it hard having to be funny all the time?

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