Writing Your Memoir

TeilaStarred Page By Teila, 2nd Mar 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Essays

A memoir is a record of one’s life and it can take on a variety of formats. If you’ve been contemplating writing your memoirs, here are some helpful tips to get you started.

Rewarding, but time consuming

Anyone can write a memoir, but you’ll need to devote some time to it. Ideally, you’ll need to set aside a few hours every day, every week or every month until it is complete. Whether you are interviewing family members or simply transcribing your memories onto paper, it all takes time.

What to say

A memoir should be written from the author’s point of view. It should contain the most significant points on one’s life.

Learning what to leave out is not the same thing as putting in only what's important. Sometimes it's what you're not saying that gives your memoir its shape. It is good to include a little bit of everything, childhood memories, historical highlights, tragic losses and especially all the successes you’ve experienced. Highlight those events and people in your life that made you who you are today.

Don’t worry about trying to find your personal writing style, just write the way you talk. Let your personality come alive, empower those memories and just start writing.

Creating the rough draft

To start, you should take a few days to begin replaying your life over and over in your mind. What significant events, situations and turning points stand out? Now, take those thoughts and start typing away.

It is good to set a goal to write at least—two to five pages at every setting. Once you begin typing away you’ll want to be consistent in your writings, so decide now, did you want to write it in chronological order, reverse chronological order (where you tell the ending of the memory first), or did you want to use the flashback method (where your narrative begins in the present and then moves to the past)?

Have fun with it, don’t over think it, just write. Don’t worry about creating chapter titles right away, that will come later, but, you will want to keep a time line so that you’ll stay on track.

Keep your chapters down to three to five pages and remember ever chapter should have a beginning and an ending. Take whatever memories come calling and use every detail that you feel impacts your story. Remember as you write, your story will take on an entire life of its own. As you begin typing out your memories, you’ll soon be reminded of another event, person or situation that you may want to add to the story. As you type out every chapter, read and reread them aloud to yourself or to anyone who will listen.

Enjoy this time, after all this is all about you, your history, life and heritage.

Writing about family

Don’t plunge to deep into your past—or your family’s past just to find episodes that you think are “important” enough to be worthy of including in your memoir. Instead look for small self-contained incidents that are relevant to you. If you still remember them it’s because they contain a collective truth that your readers will recognize from their own life.

If you didn’t already know, not everybody in your life will have the same recollection of the past as you do. Everyone has their own perspective, but this is your memoir, write it as you see it. The important thing is that you speak the truth.

You will want to make certain that you confirm the spelling of the names of the people you use to write about in your book and make certain that the places and dates that you talk about in your story are as accurate as possible.

And, if you are including other members of the family in your memoir, it would be nice if you provided them with a sneak peek of what you’ll be sharing. It will give them a chance to perhaps add their perspective. However, be forewarned, you might find some friends and family who don’t see eye to eye with you on your version of the past and they might discourage you from sharing certain memories.

But, over all, it’s your story. You’re the one who has done all the work. If your Aunt Rita has a problem with your memoir, she can write her own memoir, and it will be just as valid as yours; nobody has a monopoly on the shared past.

Ethics

You won’t be able to please everyone and the truth is every good memoir will include both the successes as well as the traumas of life. After all, life is a mixture of both the good times and the bad. It will expose a human beings weaknesses and strengths without those elements; it is an unrelatable read.

But, be careful not to let any personal vindictiveness invade the pages of your memoir. Speak the truth without slandering anyone's character. Try to see things from all angles.

Writing a memoir gives one a chance to brag, reminisce, share, highlight and document those events in their life that make the writer who they are. Don’t use your memoir to air old grievances and to settle old scores; get rid of that anger somewhere else.

If you had a tough childhood you’ll certainly want to include that, however don’t allow yourself to be a victim on paper. It is possible that you just come from a tribe of fallible people. Allow your story to expose the survivor without allowing resentment to take over. Writing a memoir can become an act of healing.

If you take an honest assessment of your own humanity and with the humanity of the people who have crossed your path, readers will connect with your journey.

Breathing life into your memoir

Finally, after you’ve typed out your memoirs, reread it and make certain that your words tell the story and are of interest to the reader.

The words you choose have the power to breathe life into your story. Use your senses to help tell your story - sight, touch and smell. Transport the reader into the moment by describing the feel of the bumpy cobble stone streets beneath your bicycle tires as you rode down to the town square.

Let your readers hear the crickets chirping, see the city lights flashing or feel the awkward silence in the room.

And, although you might not have a photo to post, share a mental picture of those you’ve written about. Illustrated their character, talk about their charm or humorous side. Don’t forget that a person’s gestures are sometimes monumental in a story as well.

If you do have photos available that you can use, include them in your book. Photos will certainly add to your story.

How should you end your memoir?

There are numerous ways for you to end your memoir. How you do it, is up to you, but remember your final chapter should pull the book together.

It might be helpful to set aside some time to just reread the chapters up to this point before tackling that last chapter. Some authors suggest that you write up the rough draft of your ending at the onset of the project but, just do what feels natural for you.

Just keep in mind that the last chapter in your memoir is your chance to summarize your ideals, share your dreams and to acknowledge what you’ve learned in life. Keep it real and just share what is on your heart.

Why not check out a few good memoirs from your local library to see how others have ended their story.

Tags

Biography, History, Memoir, Memories From Childhood, Story, Write

Meet the author

author avatar Teila
Teila Tankersley - freelance writer and author who highlights stories that are upbeat and sometimes even controversial. Her stories have the ability to inspire and to amuse. Check them out!

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Comments

author avatar Jerry Walch
2nd Mar 2014 (#)

Good guide, Teila, you've covered just about all the bases for getting started on a memoir.

Have a blessed Sunday.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
2nd Mar 2014 (#)

Good morning Teila, good read. Concise and well presented. I developed a similar guide 20 years ago for life history/memoir writing in working with the addicted population. There is a cathartic benefit in seeing events, feelings, thoughts and perceptions in black and white. Either for clinical application or simply to record our life for the following generations, it is an interesting exercise. Thank you for writing and sharing. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Delicia Powers
2nd Mar 2014 (#)

Wonderful thought-filled advice... lovely Teila... many thanks!

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
2nd Mar 2014 (#)

very good advice Teila...many thanks indeed...

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author avatar Tony Barnes
3rd Mar 2014 (#)

Lots of food for thought.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
4th Mar 2014 (#)


Memoir writing is quite challenging emotionally as we can touch some raw nerves along the way. Good post Teila covering the subject from all angles - siva

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
4th Mar 2014 (#)

Nice read!

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author avatar Kingwell
7th Mar 2014 (#)

Great advice.

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author avatar GV Rama Rao
9th Mar 2014 (#)

Excellent, but would it interest others unless the author is a person of repute? Most of us are ordinary people with a few achievements that may interest few people.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
13th Mar 2014 (#)

Memoirs from "ordinary people" are gaining value in today's world, and I'm glad of it. Just be careful when speaking of someone else -- including family -- that you have not written something that can get you sued for libel -- even if it's true. When secrets are kept in the family, and later exposed in a memoir, it can be damaging to everyone. I think you started to cover that issue, but IMO, did not go far enough.
Beyond that slight criticism, though, well done. Are you writing a memoir of your life?

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