Advice on Writing a Memoir

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being a part of a panel of authors for Is There a Book in You? It was a great success, and afterwards many people came to me asking questions about memoir writing. I wanted to share some of my own advice as a memoir writer, so here it is!

We all have stories to tell, and writing memoirs can be a very freeing experience.

How do I begin?

Almost everyone with memoir questions has said to me they aren’t sure where to begin. My suggestion to anyone that wishes to write but doesn’t know where to begin is to start by journaling. Write your thoughts, your hopes, your fears, your fondest memories. Record the strange dreams you have during your slumber. Write every day. Make journaling a routine of your everyday life if you have nothing else to write, even if it is only a half page. Write while you drink your morning coffee, write before you go to bed at night, or if you can’t sleep, start writing. You’ll be surprised at how much you end up writing when you can’t sleep. When you’re done, your mind will be rested.

Theme/Audience

Choosing a theme and determining an audience is a good first step in determining what type of memoir you want to write.

  • Are you a cancer survivor?
  • Do you have a secret life that you’ve never revealed?
  • Do you have a compilation of stories telling about your fondest memories?
  • Can you take parenting experiences and write them as a comedy memoir?

Talk to others

Once you have an idea of what you’d like to write about, talk to others (friends/family) about their own memories of things. Oftentimes, their memories will trigger one of your own. This is what I did while I was writing my memoir Unheard.

What will others think?

People often tell me that they wished they could have spoken up just as I did in Unheard.  What’s stopping you? Are you afraid of what others might think?

Where would Oprah be today if she worried about what other people might think? Who cares what someone might think? Do it for YOU. Do it because you need to get it out. If others have hurt you, why are you trying to protect them? By protecting them you are enabling them to not face change or confront the problem. Plus, you end up hurting yourself in the process. If you are still afraid, you don’t have to publish your work to write what you want to say. Prior to writing Unheard, something happened that I refer to as my “breaking point”.  People have a tolerance of so much they will take before they reach that point. That is when I began to write without stopping.

Memoirs more than likely always piss someone off.  “That’s not the way it happened,” someone might say. Well, it might not have happened to them, but you can’t dispute your own truth. I tell people that don’t like what I have to say to write their own damn book!

Using names

Another thing people have asked has to do with using someone’s real name.  When I wrote my first book, I asked permission to use the real names of some of the people I admired. I decided to change the name of everyone else. If you have more questions concerning this, I suggest consulting a literary attorney.

Groups, classes, websites

If you already journal and you’d like to expand on it, you might want to explore writing groups or small classes. If you’re too timid to share your thoughts aloud, then try with the following websites:

  • writing.com –  help and support from other writers
  • The National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) – free lectures
  • Or Google “memoir writing” – read and watch videos

Helping others

For me personally, I wanted my story to help others. And when Unheard came out, several people – including some of my own childhood friends – confided that they were also in a similar situation. We lived doors away and played together often, yet knew nothing about the pain each of us was experiencing. For them, they said reading my book helped them to know that they were not alone and it also felt good that they were comfortable enough to share their stories with me.

Publishing

First, worry about getting your words down on paper. Next will be editing and revising. Publishing is one of the last things to consider. I will cover that on another day. 🙂

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