Tag Archives: memoir writing

The Writing Your Memoir eBook is Now Available!

writing-your-memoir-ebookIt’s Here, It’s Here!

I’m in several writing groups online, and it happens time and time again. You want to write a memoir, but you’re struggling. It’s easy to come up with memories and things that are funny or interesting, but how do you string them all together? How do you decide what to cut? Will anyone even care?

If self-doubt is the plague of all writers (which I know it is), then the memoir writers have been served with an even nastier strain.

It’s because of my friends and colleague’s struggles that I decided to work on this project. Answering question after question on messaging boards was good, but my reach didn’t expand wide enough, that way. I’d reply, offer advice, and hope that more than one person was struggling with the same issue, and that all of them would see my reply.

I didn’t like those odds.

When I started my post series about how to write a memoir, my goal was to put together a useful toolkit for aspiring authors who may be struggling with creating a compelling book that will effectively tell their story. The Memoir writing industry is booming, and it can be difficult to tell whether your book is one of the good ones or completely lousy because you’re close to the content. Let’s be real, here. You’re writing about events that actually happened to you; how could you be totally impartial?

But Wait, There’s More

I don’t want to send you off with just one resource. That’s why, in addition to the eBook, you can have me look over your book blurb. There’s a small fee to help compensate me for my time, but I’d love to help you flesh it out and help people take an interest in your life, and your story. Whether you’re writing for yourself and your family, or for the world at large, a book blurb will help do some of the selling for you (even if you’re not trying to make literal sales.)

writing-your-memoir-ebook

Does it sound like something you’d like to check out? If so, click here or one of the above images to check out the eBook. Get started on your memoir today, and lose the excuses.

Writing Your Memoir – an eBook Resource

Writing Your Memoir

Many of us have thought about sharing our story, but struggle with the execution. Who would want to read about me? What is worth reading about? It’s time to kick those doubts to the curb, and start writing! If you enjoyed the Memoir Writing post series here on Blogging Onward, then you’re sure to love the Writing Your Memoir eBook. Not only does it feature the tips, tricks, and resources offered here on the blog, but it includes several exercises and tools which have never been featured here before, as well as tips on how to effectively outline your memoir to make planning and execution a breeze!

Outline:

  • Introduction
  • Content
  • Purpose
  • Audience
  • Outlining
  • Recalling Memories
  • Writing a Book Blurb
  • Exercises & Resources
    • Audience Guide
    • Brainstorm Guide
    • Desire Building
    • Averting Obstacles
    • Memory Recall
    • Book Blurb Practice

All of these sections were drafted with the goal of helping you. Writing your memoir is one of the most important things you can do to preserve your legacy, and share your story. I’d love to be a part of that. In fact, if you know that you’d like to have me take a look at your book blurb when you write it (using my methods, of course) – you can order that, too – right now! If I haven’t heard from you in a week of purchase with your blurb to evaluate, I’ll reach out and see where you are on the project. (See? A nudge to keep going is included, absolutely free!)

Writing a Memoir: Lesson Five – Recalling Memories

recalling-memoriesRecalling memories is often the most difficult part of writing a memoir. Often when my ghostwriting clients are trying to come up with ideas for the memoirs they narrate or email to me they’ll have to come back to a particular memory or scene a half dozen times before they’re satisfied that they really know what it is that they’re trying to talk about. Their ideas might conflict the first few times they touch on it, or they might not know if they arrived or their now spouse arrived first to their first date.

Why is that? Well, the human memory is a complicated and as it turns out pretty terrible thing. (Don’t believe me? Scientific American, the Journal of Vision, The Atlantic, and The Journal of Experimental Psychology are all willing to back me up on this.) We tend to believe we remember more than we actually do, which tends to be problematic when doing things like giving eye-witness testimony in a trial, and trying to tell your life story to your family and friends or a bunch of strangers who buy your memoir.

How to Improve Your Memory

The title of this section is a bit of a misnomer. I’m not giving you insight on how to improve your current memory or capacity to make new memories, but instead am offering tips I give my clients on how they can better recall existing memories that may have taken place in the distant past. (Or recent past. I don’t judge.)

  1. Physically write things down.
    I am a big proponent of writing by hand, but research has shown that writing things down with a pen enhances neural activity and helps to keep the mind sharp – more so than typing on a keyboard, anyway. If you’re struggling to remember things when you’re sitting at your computer, pick up a notepad and pen and see if jotting down the details you can remember helps to bring up more information.
  2. If you are trying to recall a specific instance, try building on what you already know.
    If you’ve already made a list of specific memories and you just need to conjure up a few more details, write down everything you can remember. Physically write things you remember down for bonus points. These details can be about the setting, the person(s) involved, yourself, your state of mind – literally anything that might jog your memory of the event you’d like to describe.
  3. Don’t try to organize your thoughts and memories before you have them.
    Leave putting your memories in order to when you add them to your outline, or when you’re trying to plan what to include. There is no reason that you should try to think about “other bad things that happened the year my pet turtle passed away” or “things I did with Dad”. Make a list of the memories you can recall, even if they’re snippets, and work from there. As long as the list makes sense to you, you’re golden. (Just be really sure that it makes sense to you. If you have to spend time recalling what your note means, it defeats the purpose.)

Still need help? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear what else you’ve tried to help jog your memory.

Additional Posts in this Series:

Introduction :: Lesson 1 – Content :: Lesson 2 – Purpose :: Lesson 3 – Audience :: Lesson 4 – Blurbs :: Lesson 5 – Recalling Memories

Writing a Memoir: Lesson Four – How to Write a Book Blurb

book-blurbWhy Book Descriptions Matter

To fully understand and appreciate this post, you’ll need to think about why book descriptions matter. Often it seems like the book blurb is an afterthought. It’s not the fault of the writer, after spending weeks, months, or years on producing memoir content including researching, writing, revising, and editing – it makes sense that they might not want to spend more time trying to concisely break down the contents of their book. The belief seems to be that if they vaguely summarize the content that the work will speak for itself.

In a perfect world, that would be true of all books. While nice in theory, it is pitiful in practice. It simply doesn’t work. That is why crafting a book blurb, though it may turn out to be somewhat time consuming, is absolutely vital.

At some point I’m confident you’ve heard of the “elevator pitch“. These succinct sales pitches are supposed to convince companies to hire you, buy your products, or utilize your services over the course of sixty seconds. The intention is the same as a book blurb – to pique the potential boss/client’s attention. (Though in our case, they are the reader.) Think of the book blurb not as an annoying step between you and self-publishing, but instead as an opportunity. It is your sales page, your elevator pitch, and your best shot at making a potential reader click the “buy it now” button rather than darting off to something else.

The Hard Part: Writing it Out
Fortunately for the fiction writers out there, writing a book blurb for a memoir is incredibly similar to writing a description for a fictional story. You should have the following goals and ideas in mind:

  1. Introduce the situation and characters
    In the case of a memoir, you are likely to be the main character. Refer to yourself in the third person, and let the readers know who you are and what to expect. Make sure you’re setting the stage and preparing readers for what’s beyond the cover of your book.
  2. What is the conflict or problem?
    Although this is some part of your life, ideally there is some moment, scenario, or circumstance which is the focal point or theme of the book. Share it with your potential reader in the blurb. Don’t make them dig for reasons to read your book – put it out in the open! You’ll lose readers more times than you’ll keep them if you make it hard work to understand the theme.
  3. Leave them hopeful and wanting more
    Offer the reader a glimmer of hope that whatever your conflict is will be resolved, and that everything will turn out okay. Does everything need to work out? Not at all, but the hope needs to be there to offset the conflict. By doing this you’re making readers care about the outcome of your memoir. People who care are people who act.
  4. Be sure the tone is right
    Are you telling the story of a scrappy underdog overcoming the odds? Are you sharing how you triumphed in spite of a troubled childhood, lousy career, bitter divorce, or terrible illness? Do you want to educate, empower, or entertain your audience? Keep these questions in mind when reviewing your potential blurb. If the description doesn’t match the book, you’ll end up with unhappy readers and negative reviews. You’re setting the expectation for the book in the blurb, so make sure that your themes, ideas, and issues match.

In addition to the example provided in Lesson One of a well-written book blurb, I’m including a few examples from best-selling memoirs which have their blurbs perfected.

Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller

Kimberly Rae Miller is an immaculately put-together woman with a great career, a loving boyfriend, and a beautifully tidy apartment in Brooklyn. You would never guess that behind the closed doors of her family’s idyllic Long Island house hid teetering stacks of aging newspaper, broken computers, and boxes upon boxes of unused junk festering in every room — the product of her father’s painful and unending struggle with hoarding.

In this dazzling memoir, Miller brings to life her experience growing up in a rat-infested home, hiding her father’s shameful secret from friends for years, and the emotional burden that ultimately led to her suicide attempt. In beautiful prose, Miller sheds light on her complicated yet loving relationship with her parents, which has thrived in spite of the odds.

Coming Clean is a story about recognizing where you come from and understanding the relationships that define you. It is also a powerful story of recovery and redemption.

Breaking it Down: We know who the narrator is, we know what the circumstances are that she’s facing as well as the primary conflict, and it’s obvious what the tone is. The promise that the reader will find a better understanding of how to recognize where they, themselves come from and witness a powerful recovery and redemption fits the bill for not only offering a glimpse of hope, but sets the tone for the book in a meaningful way.

A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

BREAKING NEWS: Amanda Lindhout’s lead kidnapper, Ali Omar Ader, has been caught.

Amanda Lindhout wrote about her fifteen month abduction in Somalia in A House in the Sky. It is the New York Times bestselling memoir of a woman whose curiosity led her to the world’s most remote places and then into captivity: “Exquisitely told…A young woman’s harrowing coming-of-age story and an extraordinary narrative of forgiveness and spiritual triumph” (The New York Times Book Review).

As a child, Amanda Lindhout escaped a violent household by paging through issues of National Geographic and imagining herself visiting its exotic locales. At the age of nineteen, working as a cocktail waitress, she began saving her tips so she could travel the globe. Aspiring to understand the world and live a significant life, she backpacked through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, and India, and emboldened by each adventure, went on to Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan. In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a television reporter. And then, in August 2008, she traveled to Somalia—“the most dangerous place on earth.” On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road.

Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda survives on memory—every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity—and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the woman kept in chains, in the dark.

Vivid and suspenseful, as artfully written as the finest novel, A House in the Sky is “a searingly unsentimental account. Ultimately it is compassion—for her naïve younger self, for her kidnappers—that becomes the key to Lindhout’s survival” (O, The Oprah Magazine).

Breaking it Down: This book description takes a unique approach, did you catch it? It has a micro-description, within the description. We learn about the main character, main conflict, are offered some hope and learn the tone of the book all within the first paragraph. The writer opted to elaborate more, but the mini lead in description is a great tactic to catch even the most impatient readers. Are they likely to finish your manuscript? Well, that depends on how effectively you hook them in after they begin to actually read your book.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

Breaking it Down: This description introduces several main characters and describes each of them effectively. It represents not only the negative sides, but embraces the positive and offers hope where there might not have been any, otherwise. It captures the spirit of Jeanette Walls when it goes on to describe a woman who is committed to regarding her parents with affection despite her upbringing.

Still Not Sure You Have it Down?

It’s okay if you aren’t feeling confident about your blurb yet. It can be difficult to let a book go out into the world to fend for itself, especially when it features such intensely personal subject matter. Have friends, family, and any fellow writers you know look over it for you and evaluate it. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your support network and tribe.

Alternately, if you aren’t sure that your friends and colleagues will provide thorough feedback, I am willing to evaluate book reviews and provide detailed, constructive book blurb feedback for a small, $15.00 flat fee. — Sometimes all it takes is another set of eyes to look over your content in an objective way. I’d love to help you iron the kinks out of your book description.

Click Here to Pay for a Book Blurb Review via Paypal

Then Click Here to email me [foxemmwrites (at) gmail.com ] your book blurb.

So What’s Left?
We’re coming to the close of this post series, which means that an ebook with additional content is in our future. The final post that I have planned as of right now is on why outlining is important when constructing a memoir. Why is this last? Well, I bumped the blurbs post up because of a comment from a reader which said they were delaying publication until they read this post (talk about pressure!), but I do want to highlight the importance of developing a cohesive chain of events and thoughts in a memoir. Sometimes following the natural progression of time just doesn’t cut it, and an outline will help you see that before most of the manuscript is written.

Additional Posts in this Series:

Introduction :: Lesson 1 – Content :: Lesson 2 – Purpose :: Lesson 3 – Audience :: Lesson 4 – Blurbs :: Lesson 5 – Recalling Memories

Writing a Memoir: Lesson Three – Audience

Determine Your Audience
memoirs-3-audienceWe have talked briefly about how important it is to decide on memoir content and purpose, but you cannot escape the need to define your target audience. Every piece of writing from the ad on the bus stop bench to the poetry of e. e. cummings has an intended audience as well as a purpose. Your target audience has to fall in the middle ground between too vague and too specific. The fabled “just right” is where you’ll need your manuscript to reside in order to succeed.

The question you’re likely asking now is “What does just right look like?” An extreme example would be the following:

My audience: middle aged women with three children who have lost one parent to cancer.

The above example is far too specific. Although there are surely hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women out there who meet your criteria — if you choose this audience you may find that you struggle to find a market or platform for your finished product. Wide appeal is the goal… So long as it isn’t too wide, like the below example.

My audience: women

While it’s certainly a great idea to write memoirs targeted at women, this generalized target is far too broad. Adding a qualifier such as “over 40” or “who are unemployed” or “whose names are hard to spell” are all qualifiers that will help you to narrow down your scope and produce a high quality, marketable, memoir manuscript. Of course, it would probably be easier to write a blog post about women with names which are difficult to spell rather than a complete memoir, but I’m sure someone could do it!

My audience: middle aged women who have suffered a loss.

This target audience falls in the realm of happy medium. It clearly defined a specific but large group of women. Now, just because you “aim” your book at middle aged women who have suffered a loss (or whatever your audience may be), it doesn’t mean that your book will not be useful to other people. All that it means is that you should work hard to achieve a manuscript that those you’re targeting will care about and benefit from. Think of the others as sprinkles on ice cream. Definitely nice, but not entirely necessary.

So How Do We Determine Your Audience?
The next big question is how to decide what audience is most appropriate. If you already have a clear purpose, it’s possible that the idea of who you want to read your memoir will be obvious. If not, then you may want to brainstorm the ideas you already have for stories you would like to include, and try to determine who they would be most appropriate for. I’m including two printable resources that you may find helpful as you work your way through the planning stages. (I was probably the only kid to enjoy worksheets ever, so I’m throwing my own at you now that I have the chance.) You might need both of these or you might not want either of these, but in the off chance they help you I wanted to provide workable examples of how I roughly plan memoirs.

brainstorm-guide

 

 

The Brainstorm Guide (pictured, left) is designed to let you fill in any number of ideas you have for stories to include, for general themes to include, and anything else that might help you as you make the journey through planning your memoir.

The box at the bottom is where you can fill in your purpose, either to refer to as you plan out the events you wish to cover in your memoir, or to fill in once the information you want to include gives you a clearer picture of what your memoir will be about.

 

audience-guideThe Audience Guide is something you should work on once you have a clear purpose and know vaguely what you would like to include in your memoir. This will help you determine your voice. First, you’ll need to fill in some basic demographic information about your imaginary (but soon to be very real!) readers. Some outlines I have seen go so far as to try and parse out a ridiculous amount of detail about readers. That isn’t necessary, or ideal for a lengthy project, so I’ve just included the basics.

The “Your Memoir Purpose” box should be filled in with the same content from the Brainstorm guide, should you choose to use it. I like keeping your purpose handy at all times so you can maintain the focus that is so necessary while working. The final box is “why it works”. Essentially, once you have an idea of who you’re writing for, you want to make sure it’s in line with your purpose. Write out just why the demographic you outlined would be interested in your memoir, and what you plan on offering them. This will be a GREAT resource when you’re working through the editing phase. You can always monitor whether or not a particular part of the memoir draft is actually relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish. With personal writing, it is entirely possible to get so wrapped up in telling stories that you forget exactly where you were going. (A la grandpa Simpson from the last lesson.)

If you would like to download both worksheets, you can do so by clicking here.

PLEASE let me know if you find the downloads useful, or if you have suggestions of how they can be improved. In the next lesson we’ll talk about how to write killer intros and book blurbs which can be useful for all types of blog and book writing, so please stay tuned!

Additional Posts in this Series:

Introduction :: Lesson 1 – Content :: Lesson 2 – Purpose :: Lesson 3 – Audience :: Lesson 4 – Blurbs :: Lesson 5 – Recalling Memories

Writing a Memoir: Lesson Two – Purpose

memoirs-lesson2As I mentioned in Lesson One of my Memoir Writing Resource series, an essential step to writing an effective memoir or memoir based
blog post is determining what the purpose of your memoir (or post) will be. Just like any other writing piece or project, there are many reasons which can motivate a writer to pen a memoir. You may be writing to inform family and friends of events from your past or present, writing to entertain the public with your heroic or hilarious history (a la David Sedaris), or writing for some other reason.

The truth is, although all creation and writing in particular is in some facet personal, there are as many motivations for writing a memoir as there are people to write them, and the purpose for that memoir may be as personal to you as your stories are. Although the details may vary from person to person, what you can be sure of is that if you aren’t sure why you’re writing that no one else will be, either. Simply spinning a narrative isn’t enough if you want to produce a truly compelling piece of writing.

Why is it important to understand your purpose?

  1. Decision Making
    It is impossible to include every event that has occurred in your life in a memoir. Besides, even if you could, you wouldn’t want to. The benefit of writing a memoir over an autobiography is that you no longer need to feel compelled to include everything. You can determine what exactly it is you’re trying to convey, both in terms of the complete project and within a particular section, and include details which support that intention and theme. If you can’t make a story fit but know you want to include it, keep it off to the side and see where it could come into play later.Cutting out particular stories and even short periods of our lives may be necessary in order to create a sound memoir. This isn’t a failure on your part. Not everything can be relevant, even if it’s a good story! Keep these pieces off to the side, and consider releasing them as free teaser content to your mailing list, social media subscribers, or just on Amazon as their own separate content to entice readers to check out more of your work. Just because a story isn’t right for a particular chapter doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write it out or that you won’t find a purpose for it later on.
  2. Flow
    Memoir selections which lack purpose feel a bit like Grandpa Simpson stories…

    grandpa-simpson-story
    The Simpsons TM Copyright Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

    Now obviously not every person who writes a section of memoir without an explicit purpose in mind are as blatant or deliberate as Abe Simpson was, but hopefully you get the point. Basically: if you don’t have a specific purpose or intended theme for each story you tell, then the reader may get lost from one section of your memoir to the next and get distracted from the overall intention – which would definitely not be as hilarious. If you’re struggling with how to weave your ideas together or if you are unsure if your purpose is obvious to readers who didn’t take part in your experiences, then ask a friend or colleague to look over the section for you and give you an idea of what they “get” from it or what they perceived the theme of the section to be. If you are the only intended reader, then just make sure that when you reread the draft for yourself that you can make sense of the order of events. Some day when you return to the memoir and it is less fresh in your mind you may realize that your purpose was not as clear or deliberate as you had previously thought!

  3. Helping You Process Emotions and Events in a Healthy Way
    Although this is number three on this list, this is A BIG ONE! If you’re writing to try to come to peace with some aspect of your past or some event that you went through, it is very important that you remain true to that specific purpose to avoid doing more harm than good. Natasha Odou at Australian National University in Canberra and Jay Brinker in Hawthorn at the Swinburn University of Technology have shown that introspection with “self-compassion” is important. Their research indicates that without reflecting on events with self-kindness and mindfulness, we can actually make our feelings about traumatic or troubling events worse. This is of particular concern for memoir writers who write for cathartic purposes. Those individuals must spend a great deal of time reflecting on and writing about disturbing moments from their past, and unless they keep in mind the purpose of resolving pent up emotions, they may make matters worse for themselves. Being compassionate towards oneself when reflecting on negative events can ward off the detrimental effects of brooding and keep memoir writers safe in a zone of thoughtful reflection. You can read more about these findings on the British Psychological Society’s blog.
  4. Focus
    If you notice, I repeatedly stress the importance of being focused. This is true not only for your writing so you don’t turn into Abe Simpson, but also to keep you coming back to your writing. Often novelists struggle to keep up with their writing projects and finish writing projects they start out with (…guilty!) because they lose focus. If they don’t have a reason for writing other than ‘I want this out of my head and on that screen’ then when that particular motivation leaves them or another inspiration strikes their fancy, then that novel/project/memoir gets tossed aside and abandoned. If you truly don’t want to lose sight of the end game, a completed memoir, then outline a purpose early on to keep you on track. Set goals for yourself that will help keep that purpose in the corner of your mind so it doesn’t get left in the dust.

Sound off in the comments if you can think of any other reasons why it’s important to have a purpose when you’re working on your memoir! I’d love to hear what you think and add your input to the knowledge base I’m trying to put together for my readers.

Additional Posts in this Series:

Introduction :: Lesson 1 – Content :: Lesson 2 – Purpose :: Lesson 3 – Audience :: Lesson 4 – Blurbs

Obligatory Legal Notices & Disclaimers:
“The Simpsons” TM and (C) Fox and its related companies. All rights reserved. Any reproduction, duplication, or distribution in any form is expressly prohibited. Disclaimer: This web site, its operators, and any content contained on this site relating to “The Simpsons” are not authorized by Fox.

Writing a Memoir: Lesson One – Content

memoir-content-lesson-oneYou have experienced decades worth of memories, stories, and events of your life to this point. The first step towards completing this almost impossible editing task can be accomplished during the pre-writing phase instead, you can save yourself work in the long run. There are five necessary elements that will help you to narrow the focus of your memoir and subsequently improve the quality of your memoir content and the project overall. If you find that you struggle with certain steps of the process, don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers (myself included!) for help. There is also a plethora of memoir samples available online, in addition to the formally published memoirs which I will be suggesting later in this series.

  1. Determine Your Audience
    Decide first and foremost who would you like to write for. There is an element of self satisfaction in completing a memoir, as with any writing project, but unless you are writing the memoir as an edited diary or journal piece, then you need to consider who you would like to read your memoir. Determining who you believe your readers will be helps you because it allows you to improve your overall memoir quality. How? It makes deciding on the next few items on this list a little easier. It’s important to get as many details about your readers, even if your readers are currently hypothetical. Are they friends and family exclusively? Are they people in your college creative writing course? Are they twenty-somethings that can learn something from your experiences? Determining your audience will pull your memoir in the directions it needs to go to be successful.
  2. Decide On The Purpose Of Your Memoir & Then Find Your Voice
    This is a two parter, but these items go hand in hand and are essential after you have decided who it is that you’re writing for. The second most important question for any writing project is “Why am I writing?” What does your memoir add? Sure, no one will have your life experiences, but why do the people you’re writing for care? There are literally hundreds of thousands of memoirs out there, so you need to decide why it is that readers will choose yours over others. Is your goal to produce a purely entertaining work? Do you want others to learn from your mistakes? Are you trying to share your experiences purely to exorcise your own demons? Answering these questions and more will help you determine how best to write and what stories to share. Think of deciding on the purpose of your memoir as choosing a goal for the memoir. What do you want it to achieve when it is complete and sent out into the real world? What will your readers get out of reading your memoir?findyourpurposeBy “find your voice” I mean that you must decide how you should best communicate with your reader. For instance, if you’re writing memoirs for personal or cathartic reasons it is unlikely that taking a formal, detached tone will be appropriate. When writing a memoir it’s often more appropriate to share your story as if you were having a conversation, so think about how you might speak to the people you are writing for when sharing your experiences. It is especially important to keep in mind who you might be writing for when you decide whether or not to include real names of persons or locations when revealing stories from your past.
  3. Come Up With A Killer Introduction and/or Book Description – You’ll Need it
    This may be something that you can’t fully accomplish until you have made some progress into your memoir, but keep it in the back of your mind throughout the writing process. You’ve no doubt heard of an “elevator speech” – a 20-30second speech that you could share with someone if you were taking an elevator ride and they struck up a conversation about what you do for a living or what you’re up to currently. This step, though difficult, is VITAL to the success of your memoir. Again, we go back to the idea that people need to care about what you’re doing. You need to make sure that your memoir is prepared to draw people in immediately, and that the purpose is totally clear. Avoid telling phrases or statements such as “My memoir will be” or “My memoir is about” – they are generic and fail to engage the reader as powerfully as you need to.I would suggest taking Lori L. Schafer’s memoir “On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness” as a prime example of how to perfect an “elevator pitch” that successfully sets the scene for a memoir:
    It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change.Then came my mother’s psychosis.I experienced firsthand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom.My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would be living alone on the street on the other side of the country, wondering whether I could even survive on my own.

    But I did. That was how my mother – my real mother – raised me. To survive.

    She, too, was a survivor. It wasn’t until last year that I learned that she had died – in 2007. No one will ever know her side of the story now. But perhaps, at last, it’s time for me to tell mine.

    I will be writing more extensively about this and other memoirs later in the series, breaking down exactly why their methods are successful. Tim David has written an excellent piece for the Harvard Business Review which describes not only why an elevator pitch is important (though he addresses it from a business, rather than writing perspective) and breaks down several steps for what you need in order to make your elevator pitch and subsequent book descriptions effective.

  4. Choose Stories Which Align With Your Purpose
    Once you know who exactly it is that you’re writing for, it’s easier to decide what ideas to include. You have decades worth of events, stories, experiences, and moments to share with the world – now it’s time to decide what is most relevant to your purpose and your readers! A later post in my memoir writing series will feature ways to make your recollections of events more clear. Remember that you can always cut something out if you realize later it isn’t necessary, and you can always tack something on if you realize that you’re missing something. The power is completely in your hands, at least until you come into contact with an editor, so make the most of it! As you are planning, make notes of any memories or events that come to mind when you think about your purpose and how you can accomplish your (previously decided on) goal for your readers.rememberyourpurpose
  5. Do An Outline – Yes, Seriously. (Here’s why!)
    When I tell other writers how much I take notes, outline, and organize before embarking on a detailed writing project – often times they give me strange looks. If you aren’t a fan of pre-writing, I do understand your point of view. Writing is often arduous in and of itself, and who wants to take the time to do more work before it’s possible to even begin working? No one in their right mind, surely. (Except for me!) When I outline for memoir projects, I make sure that I include each point that I wish to cover and feature a sentence for each paragraph. This way when I begin to write, the narrative can flow naturally and doesn’t require me to pause and think about structure in the middle of a good story.There are several ways to effectively pre-write and outline to ensure that the flow of your memoir is solid and that it accomplishes all that you mean for it to. Although you can structure your memoir so that events flow in the order of occurrence, it isn’t necessary. You can place explanations and expositions in between events to ensure that your readers understand fully what you would like to express, or what may not be immediately clear to them since they were not present. Ideally, you want the reader in your head when you write, but that isn’t always possible.My next post in this series will feature details on pre-writing, organization, and how to make sure your memoir is a winner!

If you thought this post was helpful, please sound off in the comments or on twitter & facebook. Share this post with your friends, and invite them to check out the series. I am planning on releasing this series in ebook form complete with worksheets once the post series is finished, so if there is something that you’d like to see or get help with, let me know!

Additional Posts in this Series:

Introduction :: Lesson 1 – Content :: Lesson 2 – Purpose :: Lesson 3 – Audience :: Lesson 4 – Blurbs :: Lesson 5 – Recalling Memories

Writing a Memoir – A ‘How To’ Post Series

memoirs-success-explained-secrets-revealed

So, you’d like to begin writing a memoir… Maybe it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, or maybe it’s something you’ve suddenly decided to consider after the passing of a loved one or other big life change.

We’ve pretty much all heard of memoirs and are familiar with the basic concept, and many of us will go on to read several memoirs in our lifetimes. I often think of memoirs as the literary nonfiction equivalent of a short story collection, but official categorization puts them somewhere along the lines of “a subcategory of autobiography which focuses on stories from a life more so than of a life in its entirety. They can be written for a variety of purposes. Unpublished memoirs are often written so that the author can share their story with their descendants or close family and friends, but others may choose to write memoirs strictly for the purpose of coming to terms with events in their past. Catharsis and the need to achieve it can be a powerful motivator. Psychological studies have suggested since at least the early 1990s that being familiar with ones genealogy helps people both to find their place in the world and to come to terms with their past.

With the expansion of digital and self publication, the memoir genre has EXPLODED in the last several decades. Memoirs are now not only literary works of art or penned by celebrities or public figures. Now everyone has access to the technology to pass down their own personal legacy either to their immediate inner circle, or to the public at large. Of course, just because someone knows you doesn’t mean they’ll want to read your entire life story, so how can you turn ‘You’ve written memoirs, how nice’ into ‘I have to read that!’ In this series I’ll be breaking down what divides the excellent memoirs from those that never leave the bookshelf, how you can turn vague memories into stories to add to your collection, how you can decide what to exclude from your memoir, and more!

Please reach out if there are any topics you’d like to see covered in this ongoing series! (Originally posted as Memoirs: Success Explained, Secrets Revealed on February 28, 2015.)

Additional Posts in this Series:

Introduction :: Lesson 1 – Content :: Lesson 2 – Purpose :: Lesson 3 – Audience :: Lesson 4 – Blurbs :: Lesson 5 – Recalling Memories