Writing Memoirs

I receive an e-mail newsletter from the National Association of Memoir Writers. This is a great organization and site for memoir writers all over the world. It is a wealth of information, webinars and classes, as well as one-on-one coaching.

In the May 28th copy of the NAMW newsletter, it listed six questions that memoir writers ask:

The top six questions that memoir writers ask–and some answers.

  • ·         “Where do I start?” Start with a compelling story that you HAVE to write. List 5 more stories and write them one by one.
  • ·         “What do I include?” In your first draft, write everything that is on your mind. Remember, this is not your published version and you don’t have to show it to anyone.
  • ·         “Should I just copy my journals?” You can draw upon your journal but a memoir is a story. Learn the fictional tools that will help you write a compelling story.
  • ·         “What makes my life interesting to other people?” All of us worry about this, but the good news is that no one has lived your life, or understands being you and living on the planet the way you have. Everyone’s life is interesting to other people. Writing a great story makes it interesting.
  • ·         “Do I have to write a whole book?” (Gasp.) No. Write one story at a time. Just one.
·         “What will my family say?” Tell them you’re writing fiction. Don’t share your most vulnerable stories hoping they will understand you suddenly. Treat your writing like a tender plant in the garden.”

Oftentimes memoir writers worry about their content because of the personal nature of the subject matter. They worry about offending people in their lives who their stories may brush upon or talk about in detail. Our United States Constitution has given us the right to free speech. Speak freely about whatever topic you choose without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings. Everything you write will never be accepted by every person who reads it — whether the person is intricate to the story or a stranger reading the story. As long as you are not writing untruths about the individual or the situation the individual was party to, then there’s nothing you need to worry about.

Not everyone is going to like every story or book we write. There are too many obstacles in a writer’s path to “published” to let the feelings of others hinder you from writing. If you are able to:

  1. Write the truth, without sensationalizing it.
  2. Give facts and details.
  3. Speak from the heart in a non-vicious manner.

then you are able to write a memoir that you can hold your head high about and be proud of. You have not lied. You have provided great detail and all of the facts in the story. You are speaking from a storytelling perspective, free of thoughts of “pay back” or vindictiveness or seeking revenge. If someone’s feelings are hurt or you offend in your storytelling, you will know that your intent was to do neither. Your intent was to share with the world your story, from your perspective. No two people will have the same perspective and what you may see as the events of the story may be related by another party to the events in a totally different manner.

So, take a deep breath, relax, and write. It is your story. Your way. From your perspective. Remember that and know that you did not set out to anger anyone. My favorite quote from a very famous author:

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) 


2 comments on “Writing Memoirs

  1. Very good information about writing a memoir. I wrote an autobiography, which is similar to a memoir. I wanted to share my past, both the pleasure and the pain, but not in a hateful or exaggerated manner. I was honest and a bit neutral, and not spiteful. When I wrote it, I thought about the perspectives the people in my life had about experiences we went through together. I did not want to put down my family, but it was still an honest book, just without the fire that stays with us from vivid, hurtful memories. I wanted my book to be objective, so that if my family read it, they would not feel hurt. I know not everyone believes in writing a true story that way, but I’m the type of person that knows that we all have different perspectives and likes to look at things objectively.

    I’m currently writing a book of all of my journal entries, which will have more fire to it than the autobiography, but uses a different perspective: rather than a book blaming my family, it is a book that focuses more on my own troubles. I guess that’s because I’m growing up and realizing that the past wasn’t all my parents’ fault, because my emotional problems also played a role. I’m taking responsibility for my own part in the play. That is all I can do in real life.

    • I don’t think that writing truth is putting down your family or anyone in your life who is part of your history. Truth is truth. As long as you’re not writing to purposely offend or hurt someone then honesty is the best policy. I am glad that you found a way to be honest and temper it a little so as not to step on any toes or shed a bad light on your family.

      Taking responsibility for your own role in your life is something we all need to realize and accept. Perception is reality, but personal perception can also be skewed or faulty. I have often mis-perceived someone’s actions or intent…just ask my husband! It’s good to know you are embracing your role and writing you new book from that perspective. It will shed a different light on things for all concerned.

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