Every Monday I’ll be adding a memoir related post to this blog.
Last week I began by telling some of what I’ve learned about writing the memoir or personal essay and left you with some techniques to help you choose a story from your life to write about. My goal is to eventually write a book length memoir. It seems to me that many people who write such a memoir have a pretty good idea of the story they want to tell. I’m not one of those people. However, I know I have many good stories to tell so I’ve been learning both about writing a book length memoir as well as short personal essays.
Hopefully, you’ve picked out (or you soon will choose) a bit of your life, a little story to tell and maybe you’ve written the first draft, maybe you’re not sure where to begin.
First don’t try to tell all the backstory, start at the place you would start telling the story if you just walked into the office, or just sat down for coffee with your best friend, or if you were on the sofa with one of your children.
You do not need to tell about everything that caused you to be wherever you were or everything that happened to you earlier that day or everything that happened in your life before the moment or event or thing happened that you’re writing about.
Here are some usual writing guidelines that are not necessary for memoirists to follow.
Forget about grammar. You don’t want to forget about it entirely, but right now don’t worry about whether you should be using a comma or period or semi colon. Don’t worry about punctuation, capitalization, parts of speech, or if you’ve used the same word or words too often. Write everything as it comes to mind. Then in a later draft you can edit it or find or hire someone to help edit it. You’ve got a story to tell, so tell it.
If something bad has happened, if you’ve made a mistake, misjudged something, said or done something you regret, don’t gloss over it. Readers, no matter who they are, will find your struggles and failures, the obstacles you’ve overcome much more interesting and will appreciate you and what you’ve written more because they will more easily relate to something that in some way or another has happened to them.
Try to address these five concerns or questions:
- What do I remember? This may seem obvious, but you don’t want to digress, stick to this memory. If you’re going to digress, then perhaps there’s a different memory you want to write about.
- What do I see? As you stand in your memory, take a look around. Who or what do you see? Is it a sunny or rainy day? Do you hear or smell anything?
- What do I think about this or what am I thinking?
- What am I feeling? In a sense this is the most important concern of all. Everything else in your memory ties into this, because this is usually where the story is.
- What else is important? Is there a detail that isn’t a part of the memory, but is important to understanding it?
As you’re writing try to keep these five things in mind. When you rewrite watch for places where one of those five questions comes into play.
Next Monday I’ve got some more techniques I’ve found useful in writing some of my memoir essays that I’ll tell you about.
Also, I’ve added a store where I’ve collected links to some of the better books I’ve found about Memoir writing. The link to it is at the top of the page and here, too.