Here in the USA, we celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday of May. This day is a national holiday dedicated to the remembrance of our soldiers who died in a war. It should also be a day in which we take a moment to remember the events and people who shaped our lives.
We may enjoy or dread looking back on these memories, but when we reminisce, we should consider whether our story is one that will be helpful to others and if so, how it will be shared and preserved.
It’s likely that 99% of us think we lead exceedingly boring lives and that our story would be of little interest to others. But, we all have one thing in common, we are all trying to make sense of and find meaning in our lives. Hence the value in writing your memoir. Not only is writing often therapeutic for the writer, but it also preserves your story as you remember it.
“Memoir is about handing over a portion of your life to someone and saying, This is what I went through, this is who I am, and maybe you can learn something from it,” says Jeannette Walls, author of the bestseller The Glass Castle. “It’s honestly sharing what you think, feel, and have gone through. If you can do that effectively, then somebody gets the wisdom and benefit of your experience without having to live it.”
So, how do you get started?
10 Tips for Writing a Memoir
- A memoir is not an autobiography: An autobiography is a book-length depiction of your life from birth to present time. A memoir depicts a specific period or event from your life.
- Detail, detail, detail: Your readers want to know how you felt, what you saw, the color of the umbrella, the smell of the ocean, the taste of the wine, how the wine glass got chipped.
- You be you: Your readers want to know about you, how you think, speak, and feel. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not.
- Write like your Grandmother tells a story: We don’t know how people are connected or related. We don’t know the color of your hair. Include the backstory that makes the person relevant to your story.
- Believe it or not, your memoir is not about you.: A good book is built around a theme – survival, redemption, personal journey, reunion, coming of age, etc. You and your story serve to illustrate the theme.
- Don’t lie: Someone will know the truth and they will be more than happy to share it. Remember James Frey?
- What is memoir be about? How something happened is not nearly as important as why it happened, how it made you feel and what you learned from it.
- Your memoir is not a collection of your best stories: A memoir is about a specific event or time. If you have had an exceedingly interesting life, you probably have enough material for several memoirs so be selective.
- Check your facts. Who was the King of Spain when you moved there in 1983? Don’t guess, be accurate (See #6 above).
- Beginning is half done. Write your first draft. Then re-write, and re-write, and re-write until your theme is clear and you are ready to share your story with your family, friends, and the world.
Isn’t it time you told your story? If you don’t, who will tell it for you?