Writing about your life is also about coming to a fresh understanding of it at an age when you probably think you know yourself pretty well. Novelist Stephen King has said, “I write to find out what I think.” He means that until you set an experience down on paper, until you ponder the perfect words to describe it, you can’t fully appreciate or understand it. Threading related experiences together, you see a pattern in the quilt of your existence. It’s about creating a legacy that doesn’t have dollar signs in front of it but has far greater residual value for family and friends.
There are as many different types of memoir as there are people. Like Walls and McCourt, you can write about your childhood. You can write about places you’ve visited, as Elizabeth Gilbert did in the blockbuster memoir The Camel Knows the Way, which chronicles her time with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. You can write about a crime or injustice you encountered, as Mary-Ann Tirone Smith did in Girls of Tender Age, which traces the murder of a classmate. You can write a memoir about anything, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential. Everybody has stories shelved in his or her subconscious, awaiting translation.
All you have to do is get started and coax the story out. Since there is inherent worth to the endeavor beyond public acclaim, you don’t have to be a professional writer or someone with connections in publishing to succeed. You can write it for yourself.
Here are Seven Tips to Start Your Memoir
- Write a memoir not an autobiography
An autobiography is the story of an entire life, but a memoir is just one story from that life. You can only ever write one autobiography, but you can write countless memoirs. It’s a much less intimidating project if you view it that way.
- Diagram your life
Some people have one burning story to tell. Others find it difficult to immediately pinpoint anything. Tristine Rainer, author of Your Life as Story, recommends diagramming your life to gain perspective. To do this, get in a retrospective mood, enlist the help of a friend or spouse (martinis also work), and plot your life’s six most significant moments. When you do it thoughtfully and honestly, there will usually be one pivotal event that stands out as particularly intriguing and/or meaningful. If there isn’t, don’t worry. There are many different ways to diagram a life. Try dividing yours by critical choices, influential people, conflicts, beliefs, lessons, even mistakes. Experiment until you find the one story that wants to be told, the one experience that really fashioned you.
- Don’t begin at the beginning of your life
Don’t tell your story chronologically. That’s too predictable. Think of your favorite books. Most don’t start at the beginning. Instead they rivet you with instant action and intrigue. A good beginning is a tease. It gives readers just enough action to hook them without divulging the outcome. Then it flashes back to the real chronological beginning and fills in the background.
- Use all of your senses
The best writers create vivid new worlds for readers to inhabit. Yet most budding memoirists produce first drafts that are flat. In order to transport readers, make sure that you write vividly. This is done through detail, by using all your senses to fully re-create a moment in time. You can teach yourself to do this. The next time you’re waiting in a restaurant, a doctor’s office, or even in traffic, notice the various sights, sounds, smells, and textures. It’s what writers do, both in reality and in their stories.
- Build your writing muscle
You have a writing muscle, and it needs exercise to perform well. Set a daily goal of writing 200, 500, or even 1,000 words. Set aside a regular time, like early morning, and be disciplined. Don’t worry about making what you write perfect. Just focus on getting the story out. (There will be plenty of time for polishing later.) Above all, relax. Memoir is the easiest type of writing to do well. You’ve already done the research and are intimately familiar with every character. Now you just need to tell it.
- Create an emotional journey
Don’t aim to knock your readers’ socks off. Knock off their pants, shirt, shoes and underwear too! Leave your readers with their mouths open in awe, or laughing hysterically, or crying tears of sympathy and sadness — or all three.
Take them on an emotional journey which will provoke them to read the next chapter, wonder about you well after they finish the last page, and tell their friends and colleagues about your book. The best way to evoke these feelings in your readers is to connect your emotions, as the protagonist, with pivotal events happening throughout your narrative arc.
Most of us are familiar with the narrative arc. In school, our teachers used to draw a “mountain” and once we reached the precipice, we were to fill in the climatic point of the book or story. Your memoir is no different: You need to create enough tension to shape your overall story, as well as each individual chapter, with that narrative arc.
7. Tell the truth
One of the best ways to write a powerful memoir is to be honest and genuine. This is often tricky, because we don’t want to hurt or upset the people (our family and friends!) we’ve written into our books. But it’s important that you tell the truth — even if it makes your journey as an author more difficult.
So, memoir writing can be a fascinating pastime. Whether you write it for yourself or others, you will enjoy it. And you will feel lighter as a result of writing it.
To write your own memoir within a month, please plan to take my workshop at the link below.
We will actually start the workshop in August. It will be a planning month. Then starting September 5th, 2016 for four weeks, I will take you through the steps of writing your very own memoir—something that you can cherish for years to come.
Irene S. Roth
Irene will take you through a series of simple and fun day-by-day exercises that show you the way. And yes, it can all be done within a month! There is no better way to make sense of different parts of your life. There is a cathartic feeling to making sense of your life and your past. And memoir writing can give you this, one day at a time.
In this class, Irene will:
- Show you the inexplicable things that make a compelling narrative of your life
- Guide you to zero in on one or two main parts of your life
- Lead you through simple daily exercises to get the creative juices flowing
- Help you come to terms with key parts of your life
Don’t miss this chance to write your memoir in 30 days!
Irene S. Roth has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and Psychology from York University and is currently using her expertise to write for kids about empowerment and self-esteem. She has published ten nonfiction books for kids and teens and thirty-five books for adults as well as over a thousand articles both online and in print.
Lastly she has been running workshops at Savvy Authors on many different topics for a few years now and is a moderator. She is also her second year in running a very successful mentoring group for writers through Savvy Authors.
[box type=”Newest Release”]
Many writers shy away from the words excellence in writing. One of the main reasons for this is that writers lack self-confidence. They continuously second-guess themselves and they are always negative about their abilities as writers, regardless of where they are in their writing career. In this book, I examine thirty habits that if learned and, can over time turn every writer into an excellent writer. Then writers can hold their heads up high and know that they are excellent. There will be no more need to second guess themselves and to feel inadequate. This is a recipe for excellence.