Writing a memoir is a daunting task. A writer often struggles with what to include and what to leave out. It can be very overwhelming because no one wants to leave out any of the “good parts.” But how does one determine what the “good parts” are?
Memoir writers are often tempted to put in too much information. Characters and details that really are not important to the story you are trying to convey. These characters and details may have been part of the actual events, but do they make sense to the story from the viewpoint you are writing the memoir? If not, leave them out…even if it’s one of your siblings. You are not altering history here, you are simply writing the important memories you want to convey without the fluff stuff that isn’t necessary to the story you are telling.
I recently read an article on the American Scholar website on How To Write a Memoir. The author relates detailed information that can assist in memoir writing, some of which include:
- “But in my memoir I don’t write anything about the war itself. I just tell one story about one trip I took across North Africa after our troopship landed at Casablanca.“, and
- “Remember: Your biggest stories often have less to do with their subject than with their significance — not what you did in a certain situation, but how that situation affected you and shaped the person you became.“, and
- “Tackle your life in easily manageable chunks.“
I think that these tidbits are good information for memoir writers to keep in mind. There is a wealth of other useful tidbits in the complete article, which can be found here. Don’t overdo it. Write just what is necessary to the story at hand. Your life spans many decades and trying to get a history of all those decades recorded in one volume is not only a difficult task, it may be unnecessary. Unless you are writing your autobiography, every detail is not necessary to tell a story about a portion of your life in a memoir. There’s no reason to relay all or most details of your life from birth up until the time of the story at hand. Leave those details for a different memoir. Focus on the subject matter of the memoir at hand — your memories of trips to your grandparents house, your memories of growing up in the church, your memories of baking cookies with your mom and selling them for a nickel at your lemonade stand…
In writing a memoir you must keep the story you are telling in focus. Do not lose your readers by giving too much information. Only what is pertinent to the story need be included. I suggest you take the time to read the full article. It is time well spent. I will be implementing the author’s suggestion to write a story about your life each morning and file it away until you have enough material to review and look for recurring patterns and themes. This helps the writer to really find out what their memoir is about, which is not usually what you think.
Time to share…
What do you struggle with in memoir writing? Has this article or the article on the American Scholar website helped you to refocus your memoir writing? In what ways?