People from all around the world email me each week with a strong desire to write a memoir. I love these requests! Memoirs and autobiographies are so important as they record a slice of history. As readers, we can all really benefit from these books in so many ways. After all, when we are given the freedom to step into another’s shoes for a few moments, we often comprehend life a little better. I know I learn a lot by reading a good memoir.
So, how do you go about writing your life story?
First, understand that a memoir isn’t purely a list of chronological events. I was born… then I ate cereal on the 22nd of September…then I… No, I think we can all agree this is boring and would be a memoir mistake. Yes, you will include dates and it’s best not to jump around the time line like a crazed kangaroo on frosted coco sugar squares, but we need to find the right stories to share.
Find your purpose to write a memoir
Yes, this is important. You must know your purpose and then you must communicate that to your readers.
Having been a memoir ghostwriter for over twenty years, I can share a few purposes my clients have shared over the years:
- “I wish to share my story with the next generation.”
- “I have important information to impart to my readers.”
- “I have lived a full, rich life and feel others might enjoy reading about it.”
- “Through perseverance I have succeeded and I feel others can learn from this story.”
Of course, there are many more, but these give you a few ideas.
Now, in contrast, here are some examples of bad reasons to write a memoir. In my opinion, these purposes should be avoided at all costs:
- “I’d really like to get back at so-and-so.”
- “I want to brag about how great I am.”
- “I’m angry at the world and I want my readers to know it.”
Again, these are just a few examples, but you get the idea.
Your reader will be able to discern your purpose easily, and will throw your book away like a hot potato if they sense your motive is off. You have to be honest with yourself here, as there is no fooling your reader. They’ll know.
Find the purpose of each scene
Now that you have your purpose firmly in mind, it’s time to sit down to the first draft. I suggest that you begin by jotting down the summaries of important events that brought you to where you are today. Just a few lines that communicate the incidents to you. Trace your journey through these key incidents, so that you can lay out the breadcrumbs that others may follow.
As you identify these segments, remember the purpose of the book as well as the scene that you are writing. If you can’t identify a purpose for an incident, toss the scene. Be ruthless about this. Here are a few examples of a good purpose for a scene:
- Introducing an important character
- Showing a turning point in some key aspect of your life
- Demonstrating an error you made
- Sharing a realization you had
When done correctly, the various incidents will fit together like an intricate puzzle, a beautiful work of kinetic art. They flow seamlessly. One question that will help you determine whether any particular incident should be included is: Does it help move the story forward? Make sure it does.
Uncover your themes
As you write the summaries of these scenes down, observe what the emerging themes might be. Consider the lessons you’ve learned, which you wish to impart to your readers. Some examples of powerful and effective messages that I’ve recently seen are:
- Hard work can overcome many obstacles.
- Don’t hold on to anger. Forgive.
- Practical experience is essential for any entrepreneur.
- Failure is always part of success, if you learn from your mistakes.
It can take time, but through this process you will discover your messages and write a good memoir.
Another tip is that you must always write with honesty. Tap into your emotions and communicate them. Use all your senses to describe what occurred for you in the past. That way your reader will feel what you felt. If you do it correctly, your reader will experience your life as if they had been there alongside you.
Enjoy the process! And if you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
If you’re interested in hiring a ghostwriter, please check out my book Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.
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