Memoir doesn't have to be about digging through old journals and photo albums and piecing together memories of a life lived long ago. Don't hesitate to write your memoir because you think you haven't lived enough yet. Instead, start documenting your life right now. There are stories everywhere. Write a journal, keep a blog, take notes about the life around you. I'm only 26 years old. Instead of waiting until the end of my life to compile my memories, I write autobiographical short stories as they happen, and my memoir is an ongoing series.
When a chapter of my life closes, I publish a collection of those stories. If an editor tells you that a scene doesn't make sense to her — even if it happened in Real Life — it probably won't make sense to your readers, either. Don't ignore vital feedback because you're too close to the events you're writing about. Write your memoir with the integrity of the story in mind.
Choose beta readers, reviewers, and editors who have no connection to the people, places, or events in the book — and listen to their suggestions. Be an artist.
Write your story. But, don't be stubborn. The author shares writing advice and anecdotes at her blog by. Great advice! I need to learn all the rules of writing my memoirs so that I may break them all! Wow, this is exactly what my English teacher says. As someone who just finished a memoir, I cannot tell you how much I appreciated your invaluable tips and advice! Thank you! Dana, Do you feel that some people who read more fiction have a more difficult time comprehending a memoir because of the different structure it follows?
What I expected to happen next, never happened in memoir; it was an odd experience. When I started my memoir in , I had no idea how to go about it. I was driving taxi in St. Paul at the time, and one of my regular clients was a writing instructor and career counselor for MSU. Through her, I was led to read specific memoirs, and How To books, which were quite challenging at times — and then I became ill between — from the progression of HIV infection. It was in my body for at least eight years before I decided to treat it. I almost died three times during that period. And then a whole new idea of subject matter was in the making of my life story, which could be a better subject to write about — possibly captivating a more specific audience.
All that work, and I wanted to start over! I only put out three stories last year, and pages in the prior three years. So I went down to the Minneapolis Public Library to Google my option on their computer — then I came across your article. So, my second question is: Is their such a thing as combo memoir fiction, or is that just considered fiction? Could it be a new venue to explore? What do you think? So, I guess my story is not a memoir, but my biography since it contains some astounding events pertaining to my life. I am 56 years old, and never knew, but found out all my relatives on my parents side knew I was.
So my story takes another turn, and found out that the mother I thought was my birth mother and fought with her so bitterly, that I had to run away and join the United States Navy in , but my birth mother was French, from Strasbourg,with no father listed on my birth certificate.
Given all of this, and more, what I think you are telling me, is my story is not a memoir, but my biography. I will continue to document my story and journey and plan to get my story published, similar to the movie and book called Philomena. I have my own story to tell and have so far written pages longhand in my A5 sized journal.
I will revisit events in my twenties by going to meet my best friend at the time, my friend Sarah, who used to live in the same house as me in London England back in and is now living in Rigby. Does this make it a memoir or fiction? Yes, you will lob more balls over the net by lowering the net but it will miss the point of playing tennis. My probably is that my story is TRUE but unbelievable to the extent it is hard to read and comprehend what one person can go through. Again, yes it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth — that sets us free!
Mary, If you get this, I would suggest that you do two things: 1 One, let go of any attachment to your story being unbelievable. If you write from that perspective your unconscious will make the story unbelievable. In the years I have worked with people, I have heard all the stories imaginable. You may have a challenge but you do not have a problem! In the time since you wrote, I hope you have been able to draft your story. Good luck to you.
Is that common and advisable? If he tells me not to write about him, do I have to take him out? My name is Jerry Francis. My bride , Jane, and I have been married for 56 years. While I do have a serious side inside me somewhere, I am still the biggest kid in a large family. I was a NYPD officer for 25 years, and have written many individual stories regarding some very exciting and heartwarming events that occurred in that job during those years. Some are pitifully sad and others incredibly funny.
All are true and clearly show humanity at its best and worst. Do I make these writings into a book of stories, or a story book. Is it an autobiography or a memoir. I was able to add far more compassion to the ability to discern what was going down at the moment. Hence, I was able to step a little closer into the lives of those that were placed before me, and to look into the hurt and bitterness that was looking back and crying out.
Many people do not have, or show empathy the way they should, and are quick to judge. That includes not only officers, but those that would unfairly judge police men and women. Many of the stories address that in one way or the other, and clearly show that cops are very much part of humanity, and as such, they can screw up monumentally. The word zippo comes to mind. Also, I know that I will need at least 3 editors if this venture is to goes forward. Please let me end by saying that this type of endeavor is not about crime solving or anything that most people think police work is about.
Jane and Jerry. Because of confidentiality, I have to be careful. Should I make up names and locations? My goal is to help others with PTSD and show them that there are other ways to help, other than over medicating. Can you suggest where I can go next? Thanks in advance. Great advice, Dana, you have a good grasp of this genre. Your opening sentence captures why memoir writing is so complex yet so artful when done correctly.
I too am in the process of writing a thematic memoir. There would have been no conviction or custodial sentence without those diaries, which gives me the notion that a higher power was at play in those childhood days, preserving the evidence for the future me to have justice served, over FORTY years later…! What I love about my childhood journals most though is the vivid observations, particularly about nature and the countryside I lived in.
And how opinionated my young self was…oh my goodness! I have given myself a 3-year deadline from now to being ready to publish. However, they can be stated in a clever way, inspired by the stories they use to illustrate the lessons. I want to share my experiences with Domestic Violence. I plan on providing the details surrounding my experiences of victimization. I also hear his honesty. Be yourself and your readers will follow you anywhere. Try to commit an act of writing and your readers will jump overboard to get away. Your product is you. The crucial transaction in memoir and personal history is the transaction between you and your remembered experiences and emotions.
Their mother was the daughter of a self-made German immigrant, H. Scharmann, who went to California as a teenager in a covered wagon with the forty-niners and lost both his mother and his sister on the journey. Frida Scharmann inherited his fierce pride and ambition, and when she married William Zinsser, a promising young man in her circle of German-American friends, she saw him as the answer to her cultural aspirations. They would spend their evenings going to concerts and to the opera and holding musical salons. But the promising husband evidently turned out to have no such yearnings.
Home was for falling asleep in his chair after dinner. How bitterly his lassitude must have dawned on the young Frida Zinsser I can imagine from knowing her as an older woman, endlessly pushing herself to Carnegie Hall, playing Beethoven and Brahms on the piano, traveling to Europe and learning foreign languages, prodding my father and my sisters and me to cultural self-improvement.
Her drive to fulfill the broken dreams of her marriage never faltered. But she had the German penchant for telling people off, and she died alone at 81, having scolded away all her friends.
Do not worry too much about hurting people.
I wrote about her once, many years ago, in a memoir for a book called Five Boyhoods. Describing the grandmother I knew as a boy, I praised her strength but also noted that she was a difficult presence in our lives. After the book came out, my mother defended the mother-in-law who had made her own life far from easy. But she was like that to me. I mention this because one of the questions often asked by memoir writers is: should I write from the point of view of the child I once was, or of the adult I am now?
But if you prefer the other route—to write about your younger years from the wiser perspective of your older years—that memoir will have its own integrity. One good example is Poets in Their Youth , in which Eileen Simpson recalls her life with her first husband, John Berryman, and his famously self-destructive fellow poets, including Robert Lowell and Delmore Schwartz, whose demons she was too young as a bride to understand. When she revisited that period as an older woman in her memoir she had become a writer and a practicing psychotherapist, and she used that clinical knowledge to create an invaluable portrait of a major school of American poetry at the high tide of its creativity.
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But these are two different kinds of writing. Choose one. Now, knowing the facts, I can understand the disappointments that made her the woman she became, and if I were to take another shot at the family saga today I would bring to it a lifetime of trying to fathom its Germanic storms and stresses. Whenever I asked my father about him, he changed the subject and had no stories to tell. When you write your family history, be a recording angel and record everything your descendants might want to know. This brings me to another question that memoir writers often ask: What about the privacy of the people I write about?
Should I leave out things that might offend or hurt my relatives? What will my sister think? Your first job is to get your story down as you remember it—now. Say what you want to say, freely and honestly, and finish the job. Then take up the privacy issue. But if you have in mind a broader audience— a mailing to friends or a possible book—you may want to show your relatives the pages in which they are mentioned. It also gives them their moment to ask you to take certain passages out—which you may or may not agree to do.
7 Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Your Memoir
If your sister has a problem with your memoir, she can write her own memoir, and it will be just as valid as yours; nobody has a monopoly on the shared past. But I believe that at some level most families want to have a record left of their effort to be a family, however flawed that effort was, and they will give you their blessing and will thank you for taking on the job—if you do it honestly and not for the wrong reasons.
What are the wrong reasons? Let me take you back to the memoir-crazed s. Until that decade, memoir writers drew a veil over their most shameful experiences and thoughts; certain civilities were still agreed on by society. Then talk shows came into their own and shame went out the window.
Suddenly no remembered episode was too squalid, no family too dysfunctional, to be trotted out for the titillation of the masses on cable TV and in magazines and books.
The result was an avalanche of memoirs that were little more than therapy, their authors using the form to wallow in self-revelation and self-pity and to bash everyone who had ever done them wrong. Writing was out and whining was in. Although the childhoods they describe were painful, the writers are as hard on their younger selves as they are on their elders.
We are not victims, they want us to know. We come from a tribe of fallible people and we have survived without resentment to get on with our lives. For them, writing a memoir became an act of healing. It can also be an act of healing for you. If you make an honest transaction with your own humanity and with the humanity of the people who crossed your life, no matter how much pain they caused you or you caused them, readers will connect with your journey. Now comes the hard part: how to organize the damn thing. Most people embarking on a memoir are paralyzed by the size of the task.
What to put in? What to leave out? Where to start? Where to stop?
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How to shape the story? The past looms over them in a thousand fragments, defying them to impose on it some kind of order. Because of that anxiety, many memoirs linger for years half written, or never get written at all. You must make a series of reducing decisions. For example: in a family history, one big decision would be to write about only one branch of the family.
Families are complex organisms, especially if you trace them back several generations. Return to the other one later and make it a separate project. Remember that you are the protagonist in your own memoir, the tour guide. You must find a narrative trajectory for the story you want to tell and never relinquish control. Like siblings. One of my students in a memoir class was a woman who wanted to write about the house in Michigan where she grew up.
Her mother had died, the house had been sold, and she and her father and her 10 sisters and brothers were about to meet at the house to dispose of its contents. Writing about that task, she thought, would help her to understand her childhood in that large Catholic family. I agreed—it was a perfect framework for a memoir—and I asked her how she was going to proceed. She said she was going to start by interviewing her father and all her brothers and sisters to find out how they remembered the house. I asked her if the story she wanted to write was their story.
No, she said, it was her story. In that case, I said, interviewing all those siblings would be an almost complete waste of her time and energy. Only then did she begin to glimpse the proper shape of her story and to prepare her mind for confronting the house and its memories. You only need to interview family members who have a unique insight into a family situation, or an anecdote that unlocks a puzzle you were unable to solve.