WARNING: No matter who you are, or what your intentions were when you sat down to write, you will not be the same at the end of your memoir. You will be changed by the writing of your own story. And your story, in turn, will be changed as well.
Writing so deeply and personally about who you have been and what has happened to you changes your perspective on so many things. Perhaps the most impactful of these changes is how you view yourself after the awkward and enlightening experience of crafting the character of yourself in an honest way. This forces us to be (hopefully) more honest than we’re used to being with ourselves.
Whenever I have the privilege of doing a book reading or writing presentation, I always spend some time talking about the power of sharing your story. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is worth sharing, I say. I stand behind this. It is both true and important.
But in another way, it’s not true, right? Everyone has a story that has value in their own lives, within their own circle of humans. However, if you’re hoping to publish your story, to craft it into something marketable, the bar is a bit higher. And before you start down the long road of drafting it all out, editing it until your heart sweats and pitching it to agents, a good first step is to determine if your story is worth telling, not just to your friends and family, but to a larger audience of readers.
How can you know? To me, it comes down to two things: striking a balance between bizarre and relatable, and having a solid theme.
For whom are you writing your memoir? Is it really and truly just for you? Great. That’s super. You don’t really need to read any tips about memoir writing then, because it doesn’t matter how you go about it. Do whatever you want.
But more often, people are writing memoir to share their story. Whether you’re planning to hand it to your only child while on your deathbed or aim for publication and distribution on an global scale, the minute you decide who makes up that target audience, they become a necessary part to consider with every word you write.
And yet, if your memoir isn’t true to the story you want to tell, you’re doing your story a disservice. So you have to write for yourself. I know. Just like my thoughts on truth vs. facts in memoir last week, now it sounds like I’m contradicting myself. Apparently, I love to do that. But really, it’s all about balance. You are obviously an incredibly important part of your story. So is your audience.
The truth of your memoir has to revolve around fact, right? Otherwise, you may be writing something super, but it’s probably not memoir. At the same time, one of the greatest challenges to writing memoir is that facts also have a tendency to obscure the truth of your story at times. Sometimes you have to leave them out. Or even change them a bit.
So, definitely stick to facts, but don’t stick to too many facts. You’re welcome! Good luck with that. It’s a confusing bit of advice, I know, but writing memoir is about filtering through all the facts, choosing the ones that contribute to the truth of the story you’re telling and leaving the ones that are irrelevant or distracting in your memory, but out of your memoir.
A book about one’s self is an awkward thing to share. It really has to mean something, to contribute a needed additive to the world, or else it is just an embarrassing vanity project. The only way this threshold can be sufficiently met by the book I wrote is if my brain processed, filtered and interpreted my experiences in the right way. I am nervous about this. I really, really, really hate vanity projects. I don’t want to have created one. Now, with just two days until everyone can read it, I guess I’m about to find out if I did
At several points during my research on writing a book proposal my reaction to a new bit of information has been, “You have GOT to be kidding me.” One of these is the “Marketing” section, in which I must describe how I will actively market my book and what marketing opportunities are already available for […]
I wrote a book. Though the information in this sentence isn’t necessarily news to many people, it’s the tense that recently changed. I wrote a book. Done. Did that. After three years, two moves, three jobs, finishing grad school, falling in love, getting engaged and 102,615 words, I hit save on a full draft of my book, Swedish Lessons, just over a month ago.
It felt amazing. There was rejoicing, celebratory dining, glass clinking and the like. Sure there would still be editing to do, sure I’d still need to figure out how to publish it, but the writing part was finally done.