We can and should all be writers. Leaving behind the story of our lives is something that many friends and relatives will value and cherish. So how do you go about writing a memoir?
One way is to keep a diary of daily occurrences, thoughts and reflections. For some, this may prove too demanding. There is a viable alternative.
When I taught creative writing, one of the course requirements for students was to keep a journal. I feel it’s an excellent source of inspiration as well as a resource for writers of all kinds.
What exactly is a journal? It’s a record, an entry-book, kept regularly, though maybe not everyday. These entries are dated and honest. We can use journals to describe things, increasing our powers of observation. For example, we can describe places: houses, sidewalks, backyards and streets, cities. Consider your journal as a travelogue. Describe people, interesting or unusual, the ordinary too. Use your five senses for these descriptions.
Jot down snatches of conversation. Think of your journal as a treasure trove or jewel box in which to place gems (quotes, pithy ideas, epigrams, insights, puns, nutshell wisdom). Write a little; think a lot.
Consider your journal as a laboratory for experiment. View your journal as a new wardrobe. Try on different styles. See what suits you, what fits and what doesn't. Think of your journal as a psychoanalyst's couch or a confessional. Explore your depths, dreams, fantasies, truths, sins. Regard your journal as a tape recorder attached to your brain. Record your thought associations, stream-of-consciousness. Consider your journal as a confidante. Much of your journal can provide fine raw material for future writing.
When I was teaching English at the high school level, I wrote in my journal regularly. A lot of those thoughts, comments, and description came into play when I wrote THE TRUTH SLEUTH which is set primarily in a high school. Many readers have commented that this mystery novel has the ring of veracity about it--not surprising since the book is in many ways the real deal.
Memoirs are different from autobiographies in that they don’t cover an entire lifetime. A memoir is about a particular part of a life, and therefore limited. Like a fiction story, it has a beginning, middle, and end. The difference is that it’s a true story. Publications like Chicken Soup favor memoir articles that have dialogue and read like short stories. Also, they are always written in the first person. I’ve had a number of pieces published in Chicken Soup anthologies and been pleased with the results.
You don't have to be famous to write an autobiography, biographical fiction, play or a memoir. However, many well-known writers have used their memories effectively in their writing. Some examples are:
JAMES JOYCE--A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
TRUMAN CAPOTE--A CHRISTMAS MEMORY
EUGENE O'NEILL--LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
Writing Brief Nonfiction Articles:
Ask yourself questions that you believe descendants (children, grandchildren, etc.) would ask and would be interested in knowing about you. Answer these questions as completely as possible in written form and you have information for writing a memoir.
What was your childhood like? Your first memory? Your worst memory? Your best memory?
Tell About Your Schooling.
How did you and your spouse meet?
What did you do for entertainment?
How did you celebrate the holidays?
What did you do for work?
Tell about some humorous situations that happened to you.
Collect these brief articles together in a chronology. You now have the start of a memoir and possibly an autobiography.
Here are just a few of the many publications interested in personal memoir articles:
CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
GOOD OLD DAYS
WOMEN OF DISTINCTION
One of the things to decide in advance is how explicit you want to be in your writing. Will what you are going to write be hurtful to other people? Try to avoid negativity.
In addition, just because you’re writing nonfiction doesn’t give you a pass to write something dull and boring. Keep your writing style lively and interesting if you don’t want to loose your readers. Even family members appreciate a bit of humor or wit.
Also, is there a message you want readers to take away from your personal memoir? Is there some idea or thought you want to share with them?
Most recently, I had an article published in THE BOOK OF HOPE: THIRTY-ONE TRUE STORIES FROM REAL PEOPLE WHO DIDN’T GIVE UP edited by Krysta Gibson. The piece I wrote was one I would like my family to read. I can recommend this book to readers. It’s a series of inspiring memoirs connected thematically.
Give memoir writing a shot. You don’t need to be rich or famous to have something worth saying and sharing.
Your comments most welcome!