Memoir writing takes guts. It’s revealing and personal – sometimes even painful to put on the page. Some people know exactly what they want to write about when they start. Most of us live such interesting lives that we often think to ourselves, Should I write a memoir? Memoir writing can be a cathartic way to tell your story—whether it’s funny, fascinating or just heart-wrenching. All over the Internet you can find examples of memoirs, memoir essays, even six-word memoirs (that’s a challenge). But before focusing too much on examples of a memoir, I’d like to start with the memoir essay or personal essay, a sort of personal short story.
Writing the first draft of a memoir essay is actually rather easy. You do it just about every day, sometimes a number of times in a day. You get to work and the first thing you say is: “I came this close to an accident this morning!” Then you tell all about the harrowing experience you had. Or maybe you meet a friend at the grocery story. You’re looking at the tomatoes and start telling your friend about the delicious tomato stew you made for the in-laws a couple weeks ago. Or maybe the in-laws are visiting and you tell them about the cute thing the two year old did while playing with the neighbor’s kids.
the truth is there is no such thing as a dull person, a dull life
Those are all memoir essays. You could write the story and you would have a suitable memoir story, maybe not an essay that would be publishable, maybe not a story many people would want to read, but it would be a start. It might not even be the best memoir essay you have available. We all have hundreds, thousands of stories. Maybe you think your stories are boring, but the truth is there is no such thing as a dull person, a dull life. Any dullness resides in the telling of the story, not in the person. Your journey has been much different than mine, but there are many aspects of your journey that have been similar, that I can relate to. That’s what I want to hear, a different story that I can connect with.
Here are a few techniques to get your started:
Make a list.
The easiest place to start is with the stories you’ve told in the past. The funny stories, the sad stories, the poignant stories. Get a pad of paper or open your word processing program and start jotting down any random memories that come to mind. Don’t write the whole story, just a headline or a sentence or two to describe it. Each memory is likely to trigger another memory. Don’t worry about whether anyone would want to hear about it or not. Don’ worry about whether telling it will embarrass anyone. Right now you’re the only one who is going to see this list. You should have at least 50. You might want to stop when you get to 50. Or you might want to continue. It doesn’t matter, because there will be one or two or maybe a few of these memories you’ll want to write about. At least one of your memories is going to be jumping off that page.
Write a few paragraphs as if you’re telling the memory to your spouse or a good friend or to your kids. Once you start writing it you won’t be able to stop. There’s a good chance you’ll find, like I did, that it’s so much fun, you’ll want to write more than one.
If you’ve got some old photo albums or boxes of photos open it up and start telling the stories behind or the stories that go with the pictures.
And another technique: open Google or Bing maps or Mapquest. Find the towns or neighborhoods that have meaning for you (where you were born, grew up, went to school, your first apartment, house, etc.) and tell the stories that go along with the various streets, locations, buildings, etc.
That’s it for now. Next we’ll talk about ways to turn that first draft into something better. Our goal is to have a finished product that at the least can be a nice gift for someone. I have a friend who a few years ago gave every member of her family a parchment scroll with a favorite memory, a moment, a story they shared.
Of course we’d like to go the next step and have something publishable.