LGBTQ+ Memoirs Every Memoir Writer Should Read

What are mentor texts?

Mentor texts are a great tool for writers. Simply put, mentor texts are books writers can study as models to develop good writing skills and craft.

Here's the good news, writers! You don't have to reinvent the wheel. You can learn structure, craft like "showing AND telling," and more simply by studying mentor texts and applying what you learn to your own writing.

The trainings inside WRITE YOURSELF OUT, my mentorship and community for LGBTQ+ writers, are filled with examples of mentor texts written by queer memoir authors.

Here are some of my favorite mentor texts:

Thinking about writing a memoir with an experimental, hybrid structure? Check out In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado.

Considering weaving together multiple storylines? Check out The Family Outing by Jessi Hempel.

Wondering how to construct a memoir in vignettes? Check out Untamed by Glennon Doyle.

Wanting to know how to jump right into the action? Check out The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg.

Yearning to learn how to get emotion on the page? Check out Pageboy by Elliot Page.

Pageboy is the latest mentor text I’m recommending to memoir writers and here's why ...

The top 3 reasons memoir writers should study Pageboy:

1. Learn why the writer's "Why" is so important.

When you read Pageboy, you'll experience what it's like to be in the hands of a writer who has absolute clarity about why they are writing their story. Page takes the unusual step of writing a lengthy Author's Note that lays out his deep why for writing this book.

Here’s the final paragraph of that author’s note:

"The act of writing, reading, and sharing the multitude of our experiences is an important step in standing up to those who wish to silence us. I’ve nothing new or profound to say, nothing that hasn’t been said before, but I know books have helped me, saved me even, so perhaps this can help someone feel less alone, seen, no matter who they are or what journey they are on. Thank you for wanting to read mine."

The first exercise I give every writer I work with is to write down WHY they want to write this book. Not the surface level why, but the deeper why—both the external and internal reasons.

In Pageboy, we experience a writer who has done that work—and the result is a memoir that is focused and purposeful.

2. Learn how to "show" emotion on the page.

"Showing" a character's emotion on the page vs. "telling" about the emotion is one of the most challenging craft skills to master, particularly for newer writers.

Pageboy is a masterclass of getting that emotion on the page. Here's one example from Chapter 2:

"Dyke." The word smacked me across the face, said through that fiendish smirk I would come to know so well. As if gloating: Ha, I'm nothing like you. I came from a popular friend of Fiona's. And it stung. An isolated pain, a blink of language, but really it's permanent. 

Things changed after that. Something had been severed. I could sense the whispers, a shift in energy. The speculation. Perhaps it was good? That dangling tooth needed to be ripped out. 

Reading this passage, I'm as close as I can be to knowing what it must have been like to be in Page's skin in that moment. How about you?

Scour this text to see how effectively and consistently the author gets emotion onto the page.

3. Learn how to structure a non-chronological narrative.

While Pageboy tells a chronological story—the author's authenticity journey from childhood through coming out as trans—the story is NOT told in chronological order. Instead, it's told in 29 essay-like chapters, each with its own narrative arc exploring a particular theme.

Chapter 1 opens with Page at age 20, presenting as female, going into a gay bar for the first time, shortly before Juno, the movie that he'd receive an Academy Award best actress nomination for, was released.

In Chapter 3, we learn that Page at age 6 asked their mother: "Can I be a boy?"

The memoir jumps back and forth in time in a nonlinear fashion but it works because:

+ The author always anchors us in time and space. We know how old Page is, where he is, and what's happening in the world—and his world—in every chapter.

+The author gives us the information we need to know when we need to know it so it doesn't matter that the story is presented "out of order."

This type of structure is called a "fractured chronology," and it can be tough to pull off, especially for a less experienced memoir writer.

If you are contemplating a nonlinear structure for your memoir, closely study this text to see how Page pulls it off.

If you haven't already added mentor texts to your writer's toolbox, I highly encourage you to do so. 

Pageboy, in particular, is a great place to start!


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