Writing Your Memoir, (part one)

A memoir is different from an autobiography. Autobiographies are written about “celebrities” (people the general public has heard of and is interested in discovering details about), often telling the subject’s full life history (the most interesting part, at least). Memoirs, on the other hand, are snippets of a person’s life that are all related to a specific theme. Memoirs are more popular than autobiographies if the author is someone readers have never heard of.

Here are the first two steps to creating a memoir readers can’t put down. Additional steps will be covered in subsequent columns.

Step 1: Plan

A. Choose a specific theme for your memoir (for example, recovering from an eating disorder, dealing with an abusive spouse, handling the death of a loved one, or living with a chronic illness). What one portion of your life do you wish to write about? (If you come up with multiple themes, you may have enough material for more than one book. Start with just one.)

B. Identify your intended audience. Who will want to read this story? Will it be of interest to anyone other than your family and friends? If you think it will, determine your main target reader (age range, gender, marital status, religious background and beliefs, etc.). What about your story will appeal to that particular person or group of people? 

C. Determine the best voice for your memoir: conversational, informal, reserved, distant? (You may need to write a significant portion of your manuscript before you discover the best voice. After finding the right one, you can go back and revise the material to fit.) 

D. Consider the most appropriate overall tone for your memoir: humorous, dire, cynical, optimistic, serious, sentimental, comic?

E. Think about your publication plans. If your story will appeal predominantly to family and friends, you may wish to self-publish the book. With this option, the writing level is less important than if you hope to attract the attention of a commercial, royalty-paying publishing house. If you have a way of selling multiple copies of the book yourself, through speaking engagements or online marketing, you may choose to subsidy publish, but the writing will need to be more polished than if your target market is merely family and friends.

F. Outline the order of the events you wish to include. Memoirs may be told chronologically (in the order they occurred) or in whatever order heightens the impact of the story. Just make sure the story flows smoothly, without too much jumping around, which can confuse the reader. 

Step 2: Write

A. Write the first draft of your memoir from the heart, using the creative side of your brain. Don’t worry about editing (a left-brain activity) at this point. 

B. Write in first person, past tense. Tell about what happened solely from your point of view. 

C. Follow your outline, but allow yourself to digress from it as seems appropriate as you go along. Revise your outline as needed.