One of the most rewarding projects a person can take on is collecting their personal stories. The process of writing one’s memoir can bring about personal healing, can draw people together, and can preserve the past. Though the process seems straightforward enough, many writers face challenges, some of which can derail their plans to write a memoir. A little memoir writing advice can help put writers back on track.
To help you make progress in writing your memoir, follow these simple do's and don'ts:
Do Set a Schedule and Stick to It
When it is time to do something that will benefit us personally, many of us tend to put it off. We eat pizza instead of a salad, we wait until tomorrow to exercise, and we take care of everyone before ourselves. When it comes to our writing, we put that off too. To be successful, writers have to honor their writing time. It is so easy to push off writing until later or to assume that one must be inspired to be able to write.
Instead of falling into the trap of postponing your writing, plan for it. Set aside time that will work consistently with your schedule. Once a week for an hour is the minimum I would recommend. More than that is better if your schedule will allow for it. Of course, some professional writers recommend writing every day, seven days a week, but most of us lack that kind of time, so set aside time every week to write and stick to it. Honor your writing time just as you would a meeting with your boss or a doctor’s appointment, and watch your stories come together.
Do Write All Your Stories
When writers plan a writing project, they oftentimes specify what they intend to cover before putting pen to paper. Many memoir writers plan to tell the stories of a brief time in their lives: the year of the divorce, their college days, growing up with alcoholic parents, or the around-the-world trip. But, when we begin writing, other stories can emerge. Take the time to jot down those stories when they appear; they could present opportunities to offer backstory, flashback, or context, even if they are outside the intended scope of your memoir.
Do Give Your Stories a Chance
Sometimes we have a hard time recognizing that our own stories are important and we gloss over them to write stories of our parents or grandparents. Memoirs are interconnected across many people. They transcend time and space, because people grow and change. Try to give your own stories a chance by collecting them, even if your personal stories become the anecdotal tales that accompany the work you are doing to write stories of your extended family.
Don’t Avoid Difficult Events
Writers may get the idea that they should hide the family secrets, dark memories, and embarrassing moments, but including difficult events can open up opportunities to connect with your readers. One of the reasons readers are attracted to memoirs is the desire to connect with the writer’s life events and learn how they managed challenges.
Rather than hiding the dark events of your past, write them. All of them won’t end up in the final draft of the memoir, but the act of collecting them can reveal connections to other stories and themes that could be explored. As well, writing difficult stories can open up writers to different ways of presenting those events. Some writers find ways to present difficult events by using humor or analysis, and this can add another layer of interest to a memoir.
Don’t Self-Edit While Writing
Writers who struggle to write their stories try to write and edit at the same time, and this method can backfire. Writing and editing use different parts of the brain, as writing is creative and editing is analytical. Switching back and forth slows the writing process dramatically and can cause writers to feel self-critical and insecure about their writing.
Instead, write the rough draft of all the stories first. Once you hit the point where there are no more stories to tell, start the editing and revising process. Editing can take significantly longer than the initial writing for some writers, but the more words you have on the page in the rough draft, then the more you have to work with while editing. That can allow more options when deciding which stories to keep, which scenes to drop, and which ones to enhance for the final piece.
Memoir writers can find a way to worry about anything. Will anyone think my stories are interesting? Is my life worth sharing? What if my family doesn’t care? What if my siblings disagree with my recollection of events? What if my writing isn’t good enough? What if I can’t find a publisher?
Writing a memoir is a journey of discovery. Even though we lived through our personal experiences, we learn about them, uncover different thoughts and reflections, and come to an understanding of who we are by writing our personal stories. Don't get caught up in what the outcomes may or may not be. Instead, embrace the process.
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