Write the Snapshots of Life
by Maureen Hand


Infinity Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0741426366.
Reviewed by Linda Wisniewski
Posted on 11/07/2005

Nonfiction: Creative Life

Have you ever wished you had an English teacher nearby to help you with those confusing rules of grammar? Lucky for you, Maureen Hand has retired from high school teaching and written a short, easy-to-read book especially for life writers.

Hand has helped hundreds of people get started on their memoirs. She taught English for twenty-five years in my hometown of Amsterdam, New York, and now teaches memoir workshops to adults. If all teachers followed her encouraging approach to the subject, we would have far fewer students with an aversion to writing today. Write the Snapshots of Life will get you started on your own memoir, then show you how to grab your reader's interest and develop your story.

I especially liked the image of "snapshots" rather than long stories, which can be intimidating for a beginning writer. The author uses a direct and easy style for teaching what she calls the "building blocks" of writing: characterization, dialogue, conflict and resolution, and the "components of composition"—grammar, usage, mechanics and style. There is space for your own notes within the book itself, and a section called Language Matters with five easy lessons. Hand shows you how to avoid those "common grammar goofs" in a light-hearted style. Here's one of her hints: "Whenever you are in doubt about using 'who' or 'whom,' use 'who.' Probably only English teachers will know which is correct." You'll learn how to use compound words and contractions, and refer often to the rules of spelling. Hand even includes a short test, but don't worry; the answers are on the next page.

Using some of her own essays to illustrate her points, she tells the reader how she came to write and re-write them. "Flash Funeral," for example, helped "to make sense of my brother's life and death," says Hand. Beginning with her attendance at the church service, she uses flashbacks to childhood "to deal with feelings of anger, loss and relief." Hand says there is no one way to write memoir. To illustrate, she includes two memory poems, one about her grief and frustration at the death of a friend, and the other sharing fond memories of her godmother.

The book ends with seven pages of "writing triggers" or prompts to get you started and a short bibliography of books on writing. Write the Snapshots of Life is an easy-to-use handbook, just what you need when you can't have the perfect English teacher at your side.

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