Writing a memoir is a valuable exercise in coming to terms with your past while sharing a particular moment or event in time with others. If you’ve learned something useful from your experiences, memoir writing can be a powerful way to convey those lessons to others. However, there is always a danger when writing your memoir of losing your focus and wandering off track. If you get mired in too many details or follow too many storylines, you can lose your memoir’s direction.
What Is Memoir Writing?
Memoir writing serves a very particular purpose. Unlike an autobiography, which follows the chronology of your life, your memoir should cover one specific portion of your life. This may be one particular event, a specific period of time, or one aspect of your life that unfolds during a moment in your life. A memoir’s goal is to tell the story of a particular event in your life in an emotionally engaging way so that the reader experiences it along with you. It is not a history lesson so much as a journey.
Focus on the Feelings
In its most distilled form, a memoir is the writer’s memories put down on paper. You recall the past, reflecting on those experiences, feeling at least the echo of those emotions once again. Don’t get bogged down in the details to the detriment of the feelings. The details are window dressing in a memoir. While knowing it was an overcast day with drizzling rain may set the mood for a revelatory scene, a description of what you were wearing or how the room was decorated isn’t necessary. How you felt at a given moment, the responses of others, the results of your actions – these should be the focus of memoir writing.
Don’t Wander Off Track When Memoir Writing
It’s tempting to go off on a tangent when memoir writing. One memory leads to another, and soon, you’ve wandered astray. That story about your disagreement with your brother when you were a teen reminds you of another dispute you had with an employer after college; then, you remember that time fought with…you get the idea. While every one of those stories may be compelling, too many unrelated memories will destroy an otherwise successful memoir.
Memoir writing requires discipline. Know what your focus is and stick to it; center your writing center around a central theme, whether family conflicts during your teens, the horrors of your first job, or an accident and the aftermath. Focusing on one overarching theme rather than several has a more powerful impact. With too many threads, you run the risk of diluting the emotion and losing the message.
What is Your Focus? What is the Goal?
The focus of memoir writing is not only the moment or moments in time you’re writing about (your childhood, the college years, that summer in Tahoe), or even the emotions you experienced. The ultimate focus is the lesson you learned from it all and how it shaped you. What do you want readers to take away from reading your memoir?
- Did you overcome poverty and abandonment to attend college? This could inspire others to overcome adversity.
- Have you discovered you have relatives you knew nothing about due to open adoption and a DNA search? This might help others realize the potential of DNA research and open adoption.
- Did you find the right diagnosis for a mysterious disease after years of illness? You can encourage others not to give up.
Memoir writing is one of the most personal and inspiring forms of writing you can undertake. Done well, it will touch readers’ hearts and minds in ways that no other form of writing can match.
Dudley Court Press
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