Part 1: The Making of Memoir it’s more than you think!
Writers, how many of you want to write that story. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s that story that has been nagging you for years, but you just don’t know where to start. You feel you need guides, tips, and direction on how to write a memoir, but don't know where to turn? If this is you then read on.
Memoirs. What aren’t they? Memoirs are not the whole life story of a real person. That would be a biography or autobiography. The Autobiography or biography is the person’s complete life of timelines, events, and lessons learned. That’s like the whole pizza.
Ok, then what is a memoir? According to Wikipedia, it is “from French mémoire (“memoir”), from Latin memoria (“memory”); both meaning memory.” It is a moment or event. Think of the memoir as just a snapshot of time, event, or lesson learned from that event. Need a visual? If you like pizza, it’s like taking one slice of that pizza complete with all the toppings, and that is your memoir.
Seven tips for making a memoir--and it is more than you think.
Tip #1: What is Your Slice of the Pizza?
Writers. Do you have a story to share? There was that one moment in time, that event that shocked/devastated/surprised you, your mom, your friends, and your little world. You think, Yes! I have a killer story and I want to share what I learned from that experience. Your net thought is something like, I bet the story can help many people. Well, if your story is compelling and clear, you are probably right.
I pick memoirs base on the story that I have an interest in. For me learning more about Aspergers, about homeschooling, and about relationships compelled me to select these three.
Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison. A compelling book about Aspergers and his experiences growing up with it.
Educated: by Tara Westover How much of ourselves should we give to those we love? And how much must we betray them to grow up?
The Bite in the Apple by Chrisann Brennan's intimate memoir provides the listener with a human dimension to Jobs's myth.
Here are some incredible Memoirs from a few Award-Winning Authors:
Milk and Honey Land by Janet Huxley. As her story unfolds finding the truth, she will learn, requires the loss of everything that keeps her from it.
Fractured Not Broken by Michelle Weidenbenner is a true story of loss, faith, and a rare love that only happens in nonfiction.
Pinpoints of Light: Escaping the Abyss of Abuse by April Tribe Giauque of her former spouse who was locked away in his own mind of mental illness, then became trapped by substance abuse, and would strike out in forms of domestic violence. Would she escape?
What do these six books have in common? There is a lesson to be learned. Memoirs are more than just a mere journal. It is not a soapbox lecture or rant. The main key to the memoir is that all the stories are true. They all have elements of a hero’s journey and that is what we all can relate with.
Tip # 2: Memoirs Must Answer Why
This is a pretty big Slice of the Pizza. Why? Why are you writing this story about a slice of your life? The question of why stirs up many other questions: Does the story have intentional value for the masses? What are the connections for the readership? Why is the story important for others to read?
Once you can answer those questions, here are a few more questions to ask yourself as a writer:
How are your storytelling skills? Are they compelling, connecting, intriguing?
What will the readership learn from your story—this event in time, this lesson?
Is the lesson universal like going from failure to success? Or is it something that can reach only a small fraction of people?
What makes your story something readers feel compelled to read?
As a self-serving plug, I wrote Pinpoints of Light: Escaping the Abyss of Abuse for two main reasons: to tell victims of abuse (any kind of abuse) that there is ALWAYS hope and you can get out. 2) The story opens up the “hard to hold—Elephant in the room—conversations” of humanity who abuse humanity. With one in four women who are in abuse, as a society, we need to know why abusers (statistically more men abuse than women) inflict this emotional, mental, financial, and physical pain, torture, or terror, towards others. https://bit.ly/pinpointsoflightbook
Tip #3 Memoirs Have many Toppings
So, if a memoir is a single slice of pizza, what toppings do you want on that slice? You will want to make sure that there are many toppings on that one slice to make it the most appealing. Here are the “toppings”—the must-haves for the memoir:
Supporting stories and details
Honesty, truth, and reflection
“Lesson learned” (similar to a Hero’s Journey)
If the slice of pizza is not “fully loaded” with these six toppings, the story won’t really work. It won’t be compelling or give the reader motivation to keep reading. You want the reader a sense of purpose or reflection through your story so make sure to have these toppings :).
Tip # 4 Four For Your Needy Readership
Readers are demanding, picky, and what they say goes. Why? Think about it, reading a book is an investment of time. If someone is going to take five hours of their time to read your work, then your story better be worth their time.
As readers read your work, you will be building a readership that is filled with loyalty, light, and sharing power--if your book has the right stuff. To keep your readers with you, you need to satisfy their four specific needs:
Building a relationship because of your writing and connection
Storytelling must grip them, connect with them, and show the emotion (not tell).
Topics and interests must match their needs.
Don’t forget that writing is a journey and process for the readers. They need to feel the intrigue without insulting them by telling them to much, and by not telling them enough that you confuse them.
Tip # 5 What’s the Plan?
As a writer, you have to look at the story as you would outline any other story. However, because it is personal to you, it may have some emotional traps and triggers. There is a process for this type of writing that I share in my writing clients who are crafting their memoirs. I call this process TTOSS (Then, Therapy, Organizing, Story Shopping). If you would like to know more about this process, book a free call with me and see how I can help your writing needs.
Writers, ask yourself many, many questions (we did a blog on that topic last week 5/13/2020). Questions really help you find the message and the lesson that you are going to share with your readers. Many memoirs have a hero’s journey or a many a three or a five-act play. That’s all I’ll share about this for now. I will take a deeper dive into this NEXT week.
Here are a few more writing tips for making a plan:
Make a timeline,
Write a list of stories you want to use,
Develop the characters (through dialogue versus just narration can be powerful), and hold interviews (if it is your story then interview yourself—and no, I’m not kidding).
Plan an outline with all of the above and your writing will stay focused on the “slice” of the story.
Tip # 6 Research
But it’s my story! What kind of research are you talking about? Writers, to validate and support nearly every form of storytelling is by adding research to your work. You gain strength and validity when you do. Here are some basic ideas for memoir research:
Take excerpts from your journals
Copy and save emails
Add cards or letters from someone who will be in your book
Cite your sources and ask permission to use names. If you don’t have permission, change the names and places to protect you and your family.
Tip # 7 Memoirs Can Get Muddy
Memoirs can get a little muddy during the writing process. Sometimes you will find that you are 1) possibly boring the reader (sharpen your story skills). 2) Your chronological order is not connecting or making sense to the reader. 3) You forgot about your readership all together and you find that what you have written is only really your therapy session. 4) You realize that you have a second book or possibly a third book that has spawned from the drafts. And 5) you are still trying to find the right title for your book! There is help and support in that if you need structure. I highly recommend a tool I use called Author Wizard to help you find the hero’s journey, keep your writing fresh, and to help you find your headlines and taglines.
Writers, if you remember to use these seven tips to write a memoir, you will stand out above the rest. You need to have that story that is going to appeal to someone. No matter what story you feel called to write, you need to remember your readership. Who is going to buy it? Who needs it? What will they learn from it? If you have that niche and you know the readers who want to hear your story and the lessons learned from it, you will have success. That’s it for part 1. Part 2 begins next week! You won’t want to miss it.