Write your story the right way with these four clues to help keep you on track.
For the reader, a carefully-considered, well-written memoir can be a real joy to read. But for the author, writing about yourself can be both the easiest and the most difficult thing that you’ve ever done.
At its core, a memoir is a written account that tells the true story of a particular person, moment, event, place, theme or subject. However, a memoir is not an autobiography; an autobiography tells the story of a person’s life from beginning to end. Instead, a memoir has a relatively narrow focus. Try thinking of it more like a very topical highlight reel. So are you ready to write your own memoir?
If you approach writing a memoir in the right way, you can do it more effectively, more enjoyably and in much less time than you think. Let me show you what I mean.
Lose Your Fear
It can be very empowering to write a memoir about yourself, to say that this is what has happened to you and that this is what you’ve done, to reclaim your experiences for all the world to see. However, that is part of the problem for many memoir writers, at least initially: Everyone will see it.
They worry, “What might people say?” This is especially true when you’re writing about family members, faults you have, mistakes you’ve made or sensitive topics. But if you’re going to write a memoir about yourself, then you’ve got to take a reasoned “warts and all” approach to yourself and others.
Be bold in your storytelling and don’t be afraid to tell the truth! Just make sure that you get the facts right and that you’re writing your memoir for the right reasons. Simply wanting to share your experience with others is a great reason, but trying to exact revenge or garner sympathy are not.
Let the Real You Shine Through
When writing a memoir about yourself, your presence will be felt on every page. However, will it be the real you?
We all have particular ways of writing, speaking and seeing the world. Readers know this and they know that they don’t want to read a sanitized summary of events. If they did, they would have picked up a textbook, not a memoir.
Readers want to connect with a real person through a memoir’s pages—with all of the ups, downs, and idiosyncrasies that come along with that. So give them what they want—the real you!
From time to time, try to look at your memoir draft from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know you. What would they learn about your personality in those pages? Then try to look at your memoir from the perspective of someone who does know you. Would they recognize the person that they know in those pages?
Consider writing your memoir as though you were talking to a friend. If you’re funny, intelligent, quirky or something else entirely, make sure to let your readers get to know that side of you.
Put Yourself in Context
You’re most likely going to be the central character in this (true) tale when you’re writing a memoir about yourself. But in real life, what happens to you or what you do isn’t solely about you, and the same should be true in your memoir.
In other words, don’t neglect all the background details that put you in context and bring your story to life. Your goal is to turn your black and white memoir into vivid full color.
For example, if you are writing your memoir about the ecolodge you opened in Costa Rica, then in addition to writing about your own efforts, your thoughts and your trials and tribulations, you might also consider dedicating some memoir space to the sights, sounds and smells of life in Costa Rica (and maybe those of your former life in Kansas); the builders, employees, neighbors, guests and others who had a hand in the way things went; the geography of the local area you chose; etc. Help readers immerse themselves in the expansive richness of your story.
Bring Your Readers Along for the Ride
When you know how things were (after all, if you’re writing a memoir about yourself, you were there), then it might be natural to want to give short, simple descriptions about yourself or others, such as “Sam was a great student” or “Sam wasn’t responsible with money.” However, in order to write a good memoir narrative, you must resist the urge for shorthand descriptions. Instead, show, don’t tell; paint clear pictures so that your readers can draw their own conclusions.
As one example, let’s talk about Sam. What would you infer about him after reading the passage below?
“Most days after school I could find Sam in the library, next to the chemistry section. He would be hunched over his stack of books and all his detailed notes, furiously trying to master the concepts of the day or satisfy his seemingly boundless curiosity. By 10 pm most of the students would already be gone, but only the persistence of the night security guard could convince Sam to temporarily abandon his place.”
As a writer and a publisher of memoirs, I know that writing a memoir takes time, but if you go ahead with the journey, both you and your readers will discover all sorts of new and interesting things about you. Are you ready to get going?
Dudley Court Press
Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a full-service, hybrid publishing house, we help thoughtful people write their books and become successful published authors.