Writing a Memoir

memoirA memoir is a literary genre that entails writing about previous events in your life, such as certain life lessons, fascinating stories, miraculous recoveries or rescues, or any other intriguing personal experiences. Unlike an autobiography, a memoir doesn’t describe your whole life, but concentrates on some of its milestones and depicts them from the first person point of view.

Steps for Writing a Memoir

  1. Decide what your goal is for writing a memoir and what you want to achieve with it. It may be sharing your wisdom and knowledge, leaving a heritage for your children, entertaining yourself, or attempting to learn more about yourself and the reasons for past behaviors.
  2. Think about the most memorable moments of your life. It may be a single event or a whole sequence of events. Don’t worry—if you can’t think of anything interesting, critical decisions, conflicts, lessons or beliefs can also be used as a basis for your writing.
  3. Think about people that will be mentioned in your memoir. Prepare backgrounds for each of them. Notify them about your intention to include them in your writing, since they might not be willing to become literary characters.
  4. Since memoirs are not fiction and are based on real experiences, make sure that all facts, dates and events are true and accurate. Organize the material you’ve gathered and decide in which order it will be presented and how it will be displayed.
  5. Write the text. It can be quite a lengthy process, depending on the amount of information, your free time, and your literary skill level. At this point, simply make a draft and don’t bother with too much detail.
  6. Edit and proofread your work. Give what you’ve written to your friends or people you trust and let them read over your work. If they comment on the same points, it is a valuable indication of where corrections should be made.

Topic Selection

People write memoirs to fixate, analyze, share, or rethink past events. This type of writing refers to important and significant moments. What you choose as a topic may depend on the length of the paper you want to write, or vice versa, if you don’t plan how long your manuscript will be in advance. Possible topics for a memoir:

  • The most vivid event from your childhood
  • A special person you will never forget
  • An achievement of a significant goal
  • Overcoming obstacles and standing up for yourself
  • A trip to an exotic place with unexpected adventures
  • A story of personal success or defeat
  • An unpleasant or terrible event in your life that suddenly turned out to be beneficial

Key Points to Consider

  1. You can write only one autobiography, since you have only one life, but you can write lots of memoirs, because your life is full of events.
  2. A memoir is actually a kind of autobiographic novel, though it is less formal than an autobiography, and it has a different structure.
  3. It may be difficult to grasp all of your life’s moments you would like to describe. An easier way to do it is to divide your lifeline into periods, observing each of them, instead of as a whole.
  4. Honesty is the key factor for writing a successful memoir. This means honesty not only towards readers, but towards yourself as well.
  5. Keep a notebook close to you. This way you can always write down interesting thoughts or observations that will become material for your work.

Do and Don’t

Do

  • Do read other people’s memoirs, especially those which are bestsellers. This way you can learn a lot: for example, you can learn which writing techniques work better or what readers are most interested in.
  • Do create vivid descriptions.
  • Do set a daily schedule for the amount of words or pages that need to be written and adhere to it. Also, set a specific time for your exercises.
  • Do write a story that is interesting to read. This implies that your story contains a conflict and possesses tension.
  • Do inform your family members about their presence in your memoir, since they might not want to be mentioned. Think of some pseudonyms for them or ways to alter their name if needed.
  • Do write about personal experiences that are unique and significant. You could have gone to a concert to see a famous rock band, but so did a vast number of other people. However, if you’ve met the love of your life at that concert, or made friends with musicians, that is an event worth mentioning.
Don’t

  • Don’t start writing your memoir chronologically. Remember your favorite books or thrilling movies: many of them start from the culmination or from the most intriguing turning moment, and then they return to the beginning to show how everything came to that point. Try doing the same. This will capture your readers’ attention from the first lines and make them want to read further.
  • Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, and stylistics in the first draft. If you begin editing your work simultaneously while writing it, you will most likely lose your point and go into minor details.
  • Do not get attached to any particular format, because it will limit your creativity.
  • Don’t include every little detail. Some aspects of your life don’t necessarily need to be described.
  • Don’t write your memoir as an autobiography. A memoir depends heavily on emotions. It concentrates on moods, reflections, or the writer’s attitudes toward certain events in his or her life.

Common Mistakes When Writing a Memoir

- Ignoring a story idea because it could hurt someone. It is important to be polite when writing about other people, but it is senseless to worry that they might become uncomfortable because of the facts depicted in your memoir. You can change names or rearrange details and circumstances, but don’t ignore a great story idea to spare someone’s feelings.

- Trying to write perfectly. Concentrating too much on perfect writing may keep you from writing a single word.

- Forgetting to include backgrounds of the main characters of the story you are telling. It is not necessary to provide readers with their full biographies, but it should be clear who is who in your memoir.

- Depicting yourself as a flawless hero. It may be tempting to present yourself as a person of worth or, on the contrary, as a victim of injustice, but this may distort the reality of your memoir if not true. Instead, analyze your flaws and drawbacks. Expose them along with your positive qualities, and show you understand that you were wrong. Your readers will surely appreciate your sincerity. Only good or only bad characters look false and boring.

- Forgetting to describe the emotions of the characters appearing in your memoir. The expression of human feelings are one of the most essential aspects of a memoir.

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