Destiny Fritz is a writer and local editor. She is a member of the Editeers editing group located in Southern Illinois. She recently posted this blog to her own site, and I found it interesting. Ror those non fiction writers, or those writing about their own life may find this interesting, and for those "Plotters" who love to create a detailed past about their characters should find this helpful.....I hope you enjoy this posting on writing a memoir.
Everyone has a story.
It’s true. Some people have many stories, but everybody has at least one. That means YOU have a story, and you get to decide what to do with that story. Are you going to tell it to your friends? Perhaps you’ll write it down in a diary or make a video confessional. One thing you could do… one thing many people choose to do… is write your story as a memoir.
Have you ever given it any thought? Whether you’ve given it a passing glance, sat down and organized an outline, or have some (or all of it) written, if you’ve ever thought about writing down your story, I think you should.
But, where do you start? You may think it’s as easy as sitting down and starting at the beginning. For some, it is that easy, but, for others, the task of writing out events from their own life can feel daunting and full of pressure. What if you don’t remember everything and leave out important facts? What if you hurt someone’s feelings by being honest about how you feel towards something that happened with them? Is what you have to say really interesting? Will anybody want to read it?
Editing memoirs is a specialty of mine. While some of memoir writing is much like that of other genres and styles, some of it can be much different. I’m going to break down some tips and tricks to getting started on, writing, and editing your memoir. So, if you’ve ever thought about telling your personal story, pay attention. This one’s for you.
1. Figure out YOUR story.
For many, this part is easy. Everyone has gone through tribulations in their life. Times of trouble often make the best stories. They come with twists, turns, heroes, villains, and, often times, life lessons. The rough patches of life help to form who we are, and, with perspective, often prove to be very valuable. Even if your audience hasn’t experienced a similar situation, chances are, they’ve had to learn a similar life lesson. Whether you realize it or not, your story is relatable.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what your story might be, then you should sit back and do some brainstorming. What are the stories you find yourself repeating in social situations? When you’re talking with a good friend, what do you share with them about your life and your past? A memoir should feel like you’re having a personal conversation with your best friend. Open up on paper the way you do with those who are close to you.
2. Write YOUR story.
Memoirs are personal, and usually told from the first-person point of view. This means the story should be told how YOU experienced it. You’re using YOUR voice.
Unlike other genres, where research and accuracy are super important, memoir writing is more about the emotional truth than the factual truth. If you can’t remember a specific date, but you remember Christmas music being played, then it’s perfectly fine to just say that your story took place around the holidays. Names, dates and places aren’t as important as getting the meat of the story out there.
This is also true when it comes to the people involved in your story. Later, I’ll go into the intricacies of writing about other people, but, for now, I will only make one point. When you’re writing about others, focus on how their actions or words made you feel. You don’t need to know why they did what they did or said what they said, but you do need to know how those actions or words affected you and the story you’re telling.
3. You’re writing a memoir, not your life story.
Think of a memoir as a moment in time, not a retelling of all the life events that got you to the point you’re at today. Your audience doesn’t need to know how you met your spouse unless your memoir is specifically about the courtship of you and your spouse. The same is true about your childhood, unless, again, your memoir is specifically about an event from your childhood (unless a particular moment from your childhood is relevant to the story). A moment in time can be defined loosely. I can be a year, or a season, or an hour.
Don’t get too bogged down by this concept when writing the rough draft. The rough draft of any manuscript (in any genre) is the place for word vomit. Get it all out, and you can edit it later. However, try and focus on one life lesson and how you learned it.
4. Develop your characters.
While the people mentioned in your memoir are real people that exist in real life (or did at the time the memoir takes place), when they appear in your memoir, they are characters in your story. Your audience doesn’t know them; therefore, you need to develop them for your readers. They need dimension and depth. You need to view them as characters, not people.
This will be hardest to do to yourself. You are the main character, and you are not perfect. You cannot be the hero or the victim of every situation. You have flaws, and you must not shy away from showing them. Chances are, if you had the choice, you’d go back and do something differently. Tell your audience that. Be real. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself about yourself. It will pay off in the end, because your audience will have more respect for you.
5. Writing about other people.
As previously mentioned, when you’re writing about others in your memoir, focus on your memory of them. Don’t worry about getting all the facts straight. Worry more about how you remember them and how they fit into the story.
Another thing you shouldn’t worry about is hurting others’ feelings. This one is harder to do, especially if you care about the person or persons you’re writing about. It’s up to you, but you can let them know ahead of time, as a courtesy, that they’ll be in your story. This way they can be prepared for it should you ever publish. You can also change the names of people and places to protect them, if you want to. However, the story shouldn’t be sacrificed simply because some people may get their feelings hurt.
6. Use your writing skill sets.
Much of memoir writing is similar to that of writing in other genres. Like in fiction, your characters need to be fully developed. You still need to make sure you’re showing, not telling. You will need to have a plot with an inciting incident. You’ll also need a climax and conclusion. It’s writing based off of real life, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be well written. Grammar, flow, and plot are still hugely important.
The main difference between memoirs and other genres is the emotion. Keep your skill sets while tapping into how you feel and how you want your audience to feel, and you will come out with a great memoir.
7. Edit your memoir
As with other genres, it’s a good idea to put the rough draft away for a couple of months after you’ve completed it. Come back to it with fresh eyes so you can revise it honestly and fairly.
After you’ve revised it yourself, find an outside editor to help you take your rough draft to a polished finished product. The editor you pick should be somebody who isn’t connected to the story at all. It also helps if they aren’t personally close to you. Their bias could interfere with a clear vision of the memoir.
Of course, you could always choose an Editeer to help you. As I mentioned earlier, memoirs are my specialty. I offer everything from a basic copy edit to a developmental edit to help with rewrites. Whichever way you choose to go, just remember that it’s YOUR story and YOUR voice should be maintained throughout it. Listen to your editor, but don’t lose sight of the vision you have for your manuscript.
Anybody can write a memoir at any time. You don’t have to be in your golden years to have perspective about past life events. Keep in mind that a memoir is simply the telling of a moment in time. It isn’t your autobiography, so you don’t need to be at the end of your life to write one. Through dedication, hard work, and the implementation of these tips, you can write your own memoir. So, don’t be afraid. Don’t hesitate. Don’t procrastinate.
Everyone has a story… what’s yours?