How to Write a Memoir


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Thread: How to Write a Memoir

  1. #1

    How to Write a Memoir

    "To look backward is to refresh the eye, to render it more fit for its prime function of looking forward." ~Margaret Barber

    Without reflection, life is just a string of incidents connected by the passage of time. Like salmon swimming upstream, we get so immersed in the business and busyness of life we don't see how the circumstances we encountered and the choices we made became a story with a plot and a point.

    Everybody has a story to tell: children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged men and women, seniors--even an unborn child. So don't wait until you are older. Start transforming memories into memoirs now. Start a diary. Ask family members to tell you about their lives. Imagine the satisfaction of saying, years later, "I'm so glad I asked grandpa about his career in the Navy."

    If you're not a writer, you'll be happy to hear that writing skills are less important than telling your stories in your own way. "My father," said William Zinsser, "who didn’t try to be a writer, was a more natural writer than I am, with my constant fiddling and fussing."

    Writing a memoir creates a mirror that reflects how life changed you. It's connecting the dots between yesterday and today to reveal a path into tomorrow. It's an adventure and a hero's journey. So let the adventure begin. Sail the seven seas of yesterday and return with ways to weave your past into your future.

    “How long has it been," asked Ray Bradbury, "since you wrote a story where your real love, hate, prejudice and passion slammed the page like a lightning bolt? What are the worst and best things in your life? When are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?”

    Alice discovered a Wonderland by following a rabbit down its hole and Dorothy discovered a Wizard by following the yellow brick road. Both came back changed, and you will too, by following a vivid memory into yesterday. Revisit the heroes of your life.

    One of them is you!

    So good luck! No, luck is just a happy accident. I wish you serendipity, which is finding something you were not looking for while searching for something else. May your memoir become that something else. Something you didn't start with when you began putting sentences together. Something over flowing with the powerful, poignant drama of discovering yesterday in the rear-view mirror of today. Something that blooms beyond a mere sum of its parts.

    May your memoir be an intentional serendipity!


    TIPS...

    Search... your memory for a person, a place or a phase of your life that speaks strongly to your here and now. Use photographs and other nostalgic keys to unlock the door to yesterday.

    Brainstorm... a tree of thoughts, feelings and ideas that grow, like branches and leaves, from that one powerful memory.

    Transform... your tree into a rough outline of the story you want to tell. Create the bones of a beginning, a middle and an end.

    Free Write... your rough outline into a rough draft. Add muscle and blood to the bones of your rough outline by plumbing the emotional depths of your memory. Free-writing is a playful, creative process using your heart, not your head. Tell your editor to sit down and shut up.

    Rewrite... your rough draft to create a powerful, polished memoir. Editing is a criteria-based process of culling and clarifying every word, sentence and paragraph with your head, not your heart, to produce a memoir with the qualities of a compelling story.

    Discover... what your memoir taught you about life, yourself and the people and places that inhabit your memoir. Writing a memoir connects the dots between your past, your present and your future. Regardless of why you wrote your memoir, or who you wrote it for, you will not be able to isolate your present from what you discovered in your past, and that will change your future ~ it might change your memoir, too.


    CHECKLIST...

    Beginning Grabs Attention

    Ignites curiosity, hints at the theme
    1st person so readers identify with you
    Powerful image of main character
    Sets stage for coming attractions
    Fits time/place into larger context
    Challenges main character faces

    Middle Holds Attention

    How/why problem escalates to conflict
    Conflict is inner and outer struggle
    Portrays character as real, not flat
    Unveils significance of events
    No lengthy detours from core issues
    Attitudes and actions are clear
    Chronological & emotional flow clear
    Enables figurative, sensory presence
    Climax revealed as choices struggled with
    Consequences come from choices made and actions taken

    End Releases Tension

    Conclusion ties up loose ends
    But foreshadows possible future
    Life-changing effect of character's struggle
    Gives readers something for their lives

  2. #2
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    qwertyportne, wonderful post, helpful of course with great tips and info but it is also written in a way to be enjoyed.
    The opening quote is one I will keep with me. Serendipity what a word, feels like the happy side of mesmerize.
    Thank you for sharing.
    [I]"The world stands out on either side No wider than the heart is wide;
    Above the world is stretched the sky, No higher than the soul is high.
    The heart can push the sea and land Farther away on either hand;
    The soul can split the sky in two, And let the face of God shine through.
    But East and West will pinch the heart That can not keep them pushed apart;
    And he whose soul is flat -- the sky -- Will cave in on him by and by."
    [/I]

  3. #3
    Thanks for your kind response. Was hoping more people would get excited about memoirs but alas this forum appears to be dead to reflection in that form. My personal experience has been that writing memoirs can be more powerful than writing poetry, for both the author and the audience. Perhaps most people think memoirs should be written only by famous people? Or only when you get old, near the end of your life?

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by qwertyportne View Post
    Thanks for your kind response. Was hoping more people would get excited about memoirs but alas this forum appears to be dead to reflection in that form. My personal experience has been that writing memoirs can be more powerful than writing poetry, for both the author and the audience. Perhaps most people think memoirs should be written only by famous people? Or only when you get old, near the end of your life?
    It's my favorite kind of read, love listening to people share their memories, like an old photo album, a look inside them.
    My Mama read almost exclusively biographies from the time I can recollect and she shared what she learned. I felt I knew the people, I liked that.

    You will always have me as your audience, qwertyportne.
    [I]"The world stands out on either side No wider than the heart is wide;
    Above the world is stretched the sky, No higher than the soul is high.
    The heart can push the sea and land Farther away on either hand;
    The soul can split the sky in two, And let the face of God shine through.
    But East and West will pinch the heart That can not keep them pushed apart;
    And he whose soul is flat -- the sky -- Will cave in on him by and by."
    [/I]

  5. #5
    Hi qwerty,
    this is a useful tool, not just for memoirs.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Bazz

  6. #6
    I am glad this popped up again, since I missed it the first time around. My memoirish idea is on the back burner, but it is still simmering. This is helpful advice. Thanks, qwerty!
    Wisdom is seldom boisterous.

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    If you're into hillbilly themed pornography (and, really, who ISN'T these days?), check out Hidden Content and Hidden Content . There's no pornography, but everything IS written by a hillbilly.

  7. #7
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    This is a most excellent post My parents are a source of information for stories to be written, and I’ve started “interviewing” them when we get together for coffee. My dad loves to talk about his past, and my mom? Well, she’s a bit more tightlipped about hers.

    I’m currently playing with a storyline based on a picnic basket that my grandmother bought in 1956 in France, which now sits on my dining table, 60 years later, waiting to be taken on another picnic. Thing is, the story is abit dull and I’m feeling lost in the direction of it. The checklist you posted above, qwertyportne, has given me some new ideas to add some flavour to a story that I consider to be part of my past And part of my future. Thank you!!

    TM

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