You don’t have to be famous to write your memoirs. Neither do you have to pass some kind of age-related test that pronounces you “long-lived and qualified to tell all.” In today’s book market where nonfiction sales still outrank fiction titles, there are lots of good reasons to consider writing your life story. Some of these reasons include:
* Leaving a record for family and friends.
* Surviving a traumatic experience and wanting to share how you coped or managed.
* Encounters with fame and/or fortune and the impact that had on you.
* A unique adventure—on the road or right at home (We Raised Lamas in the Bathroom!).
* Self-discovery through a spiritual or creative path.
* Desire to pass on a valuable life lesson.
Memoir styles vary from the tragic to the humorous and anywhere in between. A good memoir, however, goes beyond “I remember…” Rather than looking solely into the past, the well-written memoir propels readers into the future, inspiring them to change or live in a new and meaningful way. For me, the best memoirs celebrate life—no matter how difficult that life may have been or will continue to be. If you’re interested in sharing your life story, here are some tips to help you get started:
1. It’s never too early to begin writing. If you have something important you want to say, start writing in your journal as soon as possible. You can always edit, revise, and change your point of view later on. The thing is to get your first thoughts and fresh impressions down on paper, even while events are still happening.
2. Age has nothing to do with memoir or autobiography. Look at Miley Cyrus and the dozens of other young people who have written about their journey onto the world stage. Young lives, big challenges.
3. Sometimes the best place to start is from a particular memory—not just the date of your birth (and how many of us really know what happened that day?) How about your first memory? Your favorite? Your worst or most embarrassing?
4. Rather than explore and divulge your entire life, choose a theme: holidays; recipes; travels; movies; books; cars you’ve owned, clothes you’ve worn; classes you’ve taken; people you’ve met.
5. Employ fiction techniques and strategies to enliven your story. I’m not suggesting you make things up, but that you simply look at events through a novelist’s eye. For instance, how have you changed from the events in your life? Looking back, how did Event A create Event B and so forth? Pretend that your story is fiction and you are the main character: What did you want more than anything; what prevented you from achieving your goal; and what did you do about it? How does that angle change your viewpoint?
6. Before you begin writing, decide what it is exactly that you want readers to know, learn, or feel when they are finished reading. Do you want them to be uplifted, more careful, or motivated in some way?
7. A “memoir” doesn’t always have to be about you. You can always write about someone else, even using that individual’s voice with first person point of view.
8. Break the mold: a memoir doesn’t have to be in the form of a book-length work. Perhaps all you truly want to write is an essay, a series of vignettes, or a children’s picture book. And who says you have to go to print? A memoir blog or website could be the perfect medium for your message.
9. That said, why limit yourself to prose? Memoir poetry could open an entirely new perspective for you and your voice.
10. Stuck? Don’t know where to start? Take an object that you have had for a while, ideally something from your childhood or an ancestor, or a special gift you received. Hold it in your hands. Close your eyes and sit with it for several minutes. When you are ready, start writing about that object. First describe it in detail. Then try to recall everything about where it came from and why it has significance for you. Capture the feeling associated with that object. Try this several times with various items.
11. Another way to tackle the memoir is to intentionally embark on a fresh adventure or experience you have never had before: travel to a foreign country; going back to school; starting a new career; becoming an empty-nester; experimenting with a new diet. Take detailed and daily notes as you go along. These will become the foundation if not the entire manuscript of your memoir.
12. While you’re writing, don’t overlook the importance of collage and other forms of artwork when trying to gather and collate your memories. Family photos and documents creatively arranged on a board or a wall in your writing room can be a constant source of inspiration. Having them close by can help you to stay focused, and who knows—they may even spark a new direction for yet another type of memoir.
Tip of the Day: Read a few memoirs to get a feel for how other authors have attempted the genre. Then explore your own background and see if there is something special and/or unique for you to focus on and write about. It may help to start in small segments rather than attempting a book-length piece.