Memoirs are a meaningful way to offer readers a unique glimpse of life’s lessons that can be learned. They are personal and challenging, yet hopeful and encouraging all at the same time. These tips for writing a memoir will help you put the experiences of your life into a meaningful format that will help others learn today what you learned from your days gone by.
#1. Remember that you’re writing a memoir and not an autobiography.
A memoir requires a narrow focus for it to be successful. It’s not a snapshot of your entire life. It’s simply a recounting of a specific moment in time that held meaning to you. Instead of it being an entire apple pie, it’s more like ¼ of a regular slice out of it.
The goal here is to have the reader be able to have a deep understanding about who you are as a person from this one experience. Focus on that moment, what it taught you, and why that lesson was important. This will let everyone who reads your memoir have the chance to walk away from the story feeling like they know you a little better.
#2. It may be your story, but include more than just a story.
Your story is important, but so are the specific details that happened to you while that story was happening. Having a narrow focus for a memoir means sticking to a certain moment or experience in time. What it doesn’t mean is keeping your narrative limited in how you tell readers what is going on.
Imagine a President offering a memoir about one day they spent in the Oval Office. “I did some paperwork. I made some decisions. I believe I had a dry turkey sandwich for lunch.” The sandwich isn’t the only thing that is dry in a narrative like that.
You need to include descriptions, memories, circumstances, challenges – anything that can put the reader into your shoes so they can experience the moments as you experienced them. The focus might be on one certain moment, but expand upon that focus by exploring more of your surroundings.
#3. Be honest.
Although honesty isn’t always a necessity in a memoir, the most powerful narratives in this category are genuine and truthful. Sometimes a writer might try to change details to avoid hurting people or causing rifts within a family, but an authentic lesson cannot be offered to a reader if the narrative itself is not authentic.
#4. Create an emotional connection.
The goal of a memoir is to create an emotional connection with a reader so the lessons offered will be absorbed – whether they realize it is happening or not. You want to be able to hook them into turning each page because they are curious about what is going to happen.
In order to create these emotions, it is important to create emotional connections to the events that are happening within your narrative. The emotion should shape your story, so include what the emotions have caused you to do by showing the reader what has happened.
Take the example of someone who has just had $100,000 in debt forgiven. Saying, “I had a lot of debt forgiven and it felt great,” has little impact.
This has more impact:
“I got the letter in the mail. It told me that I had been given new life. The money that was going to be spent repaying an old debt could now be spent on my future education. Tears sprung from my eyes. My heart felt like it would explore. This was the new start I’d been wanting.”
#5. Your memoir locations should be like your emotional connections.
Just as you need to show your readers your emotions instead of telling them what is happening, the locations of your memoir need to be shown to them as well. Your characters also get the same treatment.
How can this be done? Think about your favorite place to visit. Maybe it’s a city like Seattle. Or it could be an isolated cabin by a lake. What emotion draws you to this place? It is this experience that needs to be included in your narrative so that readers can also be drawn to that place.
#6. Visualize each scene and make it a reality.
Vivid language helps a reader be able to picture a scene as if it were happening in front of them. The only problem is that as a writer discussing your own personal events, there will be a natural bias, both positive or negative, that is incorporated into the events, characters, and locations of your memoir. You need to eliminate these so a reader can draw their own conclusions.
You can do this through adding more descriptive elements to your story. If a character is a drug addict, don’t call him “John the drug addict.” Say something like this: “John woke up, not knowing where he was. Used needles were scattered everywhere. A strange white powder was under his nose.”
These tips for writing a memoir can help your narrative be experienced by readers just as you experienced it in the past. Find your focus, stick to it, and show the reader what happened. When you can do that, then you’ll be able to maximize your impact.