Finding the Unique Voice for Your Memoir: Are you a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald?

Hemingway says: to write
“All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I’ve been thinking about voice for my memoir about attending college while raising five young children.  A few years ago, I went to a workshop on memoir at a Peter Murphy Writing Seminar.  At the conference I learned to find my unique voice. 

Writers were supposed to come to the workshop with a memoir essay for critique that first morning.  My essay spoke of taking my children with me to sign up for college.  Five cranky children and one woman who didn’t know what she was doing, standing in a line for what seemed like ages…well, you get the scenario. 
If you’ve read any of my camping adventures with the family on my Camping with Kids blog, you’ll see my writing style.  What I didn’t understand, though, was how closely related my writing style was to my voice.  I write conversationally, concretely, and I find the humor in anything.  To me it’s the only way to survive life—especially when attending college as a mother of five.  The critique group was very encouraging of my fledgling memoir voice.
Then we all disappeared to write more on our memoir subject and returned after lunch.
For the second essay, I decided to obtain feedback about a classroom scenario—no children.  Should be the same voice, right?  
It was unanimous. 
“This is not the same Victoria Marie we enjoyed this morning.” 
Silly me.  I thought it was.
The critique group informed me that this second essay was too academic sounding, too many similes, too much comparison, too much description.  They enjoyed the lively scenes and interactions with my family, most especially my children.
Oh yes, my children certainly are characters.  But so am I in this memoir.  I am both the narrator and the main character; a shy [yes, really!] unsure mother who decides to better herself and thereby her children by attending college.  I am not the same woman at the beginning of the memoir that I am at the end.  And therein lays the growth in character, the narrative arc of the memoir. 
As for voice, (or is it style?) it appears that I am more the Ernest Hemingway-type of writer than an F. Scott Fitzgerald-type of writer.  The critique group enjoyed my active scenes and verb choices, short crisp descriptions, and concreteness.  Flowery Fitzgerald (my term) is more the complex sentence (and words!) and cerebral thoughts kind of writer with lots of poetry and comparison.
I was reminded, when researching this blog post, that these two masters of the writing canon were contemporaries and had the same editor.  So what kind of writer are you, a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald?  Do you feel that voice and style are synonymous?  

20 thoughts on “Finding the Unique Voice for Your Memoir: Are you a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald?”

  1. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell which kind of writer you are, Marie, when writing fantasy. Occasionally, I can pick up which type of writer I'm reading, but not always.

    Thank you so much for reading my Adventures in Writing blog post. It is truly appreciated.

  2. I think that voice and style can be synonymous, but I think we can write with our voice in a style that is different from our norm, say for a certain project or article. I've had people tell me that my writing sounds like me, so I guess that is a good thing. 🙂 Thanks for the post – good things to consider.

  3. Thank you again, Karen, for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. I agree that different writing projects and articles may require a different style or voice. However, the best thing a writer can do is be true to herself.

    Thanks for leaving a comment. Your insight is greatly appreciated.

  4. What an interesting discovery that must have been. It must have been so helpful to get in touch with your "Hemingway" core writing voice after that critique. I think I'm a Hemingway too.

  5. Hello and welcome to my Adventures in Writing blog, fellow Hemingway-er! I truly appreciate your comment, scs.

    It was amazing when I realized the styles of the two masters and then discovered how my concreteness and straight forward voice mirrored Hemingway's.

    Thanks for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please stop by again!

  6. How interesting that those readers noticed a difference. I can see us having slightly different voices depending on who we're with.

    I don't know which one I am. I do know I prefer reading Fitzgerald to Hemingway.

  7. Thank you, Theresa, for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. I agree that, depending what we are writing, the vocabulary and tone will be different. I also feel that the main character, me in memoir, will mature and grow throughout the journey. However, it seems that my critique partners at that conference preferred the casual, concrete voice of a mother struggling to begin a college career. Perhaps I was too didactic in the second essay, something I'm always worried about in recounting this college journey in memoir.

    It's the poet in you, Theresa, who loves Fitzgerald. I always enjoy your poetry when you share it on your blog. I admire both writers, but I seem to be more straightforward like Hemingway when I write. Thanks again for visiting Adventures in Writing.

  8. This is an interesting post since I've been told the same thing about my work by someone I respect. Certain types of writing I do apparently my voice is strong and others, not so much. It's made me really think about the genre I've chosen to write, which is novels. According to this person, my voice comes across much stronger in nonfiction memoir-type writing.

  9. Wonderful, Karen. Even though you are a character in a memoir, you need to grow and change slightly because of what is happening in that memoir. However, your core beliefs remain the same. Like I told Theresa above, I feel that some writing projects may call for a slightly different voice, be it vocabulary or tone.

    Thanks for visiting Adventures in Writing and leaving a comment. I'm always interested in your insight.

  10. This is an interesting contemplation that I've been thinking about recently as well. I've been reading a novel and I started thinking that I don't write as well as this writer, but then I wondered if I try to convey something differently in my writing. Like you I tend to be more conversational and strive for a natural tone.

    I'm thinking that style and voice are the same–at least that's the way I've always seen it before. I'm probably more like Hemingway because I like to keep it simple and create moods and settings without poetic stilted language. But sure to admire a writer who makes the writing flow with beauty and poesy.

    Something to ponder for the future. One of the advantages to having others provide critique.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

  11. Definitely something to contemplate, Lee. In fact while I read others, I think of this too. And I always admired the poetic writer and wondered why his or her writing always sounded better than mine. Now I think it's not so much better as in a different style. This doesn't mean that Hemingway never used a pinch of poetry or imagery here and there, as all writers should. I feel that style and voice are basically the same, too!

    Thanks so much for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. It is greatly appreciated.

  12. Good for you, Lisa! It's amazing that since I started thinking about this voice/style issue, I've been noticing it in the stories I read as well as the stories I write. Thank you so much for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Please stop by again.


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