If you have an interesting story to tell, you might be contemplating writing your memoir. As you sit down to start, most likely you’ll realize it isn’t an easy task. Most likely there will be a lot of emotion behind many of the events that have shaped your life story. Collecting these incidents together for your readers will take strength, time, and patience. Knowing this upfront will help you plan and complete your book.
Take a deep breath. You got this!
Many people have reached out to me over the last two decades asking for advice about how to write their life stories. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Writing your memoir takes time
Writing a book isn’t an overnight undertaking. For a professional writer, I’d estimate it will take two hundred hours to complete. If you’re new to the process, plan for it to take longer.
It’s important not to rush the process. Even if you have plenty of time, give yourself some breathing room.
Eight months to a year is a good timeframe for completing a book. Set daily targets and hold yourself accountable for making them. Your memoir will be the better for it.
Character flaws are key
Even if you have lived the life of a hero, you will need to take a step back and look for a few non-optimum personality traits to share.
The reason for this is that the rest of us, your readers who have flaws, will never be able to relate to the story of a perfect superhero. Include the mistakes you’ve made in your life when writing your memoir. Find a few lapses in judgment and delve into them. Anecdotes showing how you overcame barriers and errors will enhance your book.
Humor goes a long way
When an author can poke fun at his or her situation and enliven a story by bringing out its comical aspect, it makes for a more enjoyable and memorable read. While it is best not to make fun of others in your book, there are still plenty of other ways to include humor.
For instance, funny dialogue snippets lighten the mood nicely. There might also be times when you can uncover an absurd moment and then expand on it. Don’t be afraid to shine a spotlight on certain aspects of your life that might make others laugh out loud.
Write and write and write
If you’re writing your memoir on your own, you’ll need to write on a regular basis.
Don’t expect to make much progress if you only type a few pages on the weekends. Great writers write every day. It keeps ideas flowing and the creative pump primed.
Feel free to embellish the details
No one expects you to remember every single little detail of your life perfectly.
For example, can you recall what you had for breakfast on October 20th, 1974? If you’re writing a breakfast scene and want to put Eggs Benedict on the table, go ahead. Your readers will accept it.
The situation is similar with dialogue. If you are writing about an important conversation, your readers don’t care about the exact words spoken. They just want to know the gist of the conversation.
The truth is, even if you have a photographic memory, you will want to change up the words a bit to improve the flow of the story. However, never invent fictitious and unflattering words for a real person you’re mentioning by name. He or she might not appreciate your creativity.
Although you’re delving into the viewpoint of one character, you, you need to have the ability to pull back from your perspective.
This might mean that you don’t come out as the winner in every argument. And, please don’t resent me for saying so, but you might turn out to be wrong on occasion. It happens! Remember, flawless characters aren’t very believable.
One of my biggest tips for writing a memoir is to be truthful with your readers. It’s possible that they might learn a lesson and avoid making the same mistakes you did. Wouldn’t it be good to know that your book changed the life of just one person?
Read other memoirs
I read a quote today that I loved. It said:
“Reading and writing cannot be separated. Reading is breathing in. Writing is breathing out.” (I wish I knew who wrote it.)
Writing a memoir is difficult if you’ve never read one by another writer. Reading a lot will help you learn about what works and what doesn’t.
You can also learn to spot the memoir themes, which might give you ideas for your book’s theme.
With these tips for writing a memoir, you are ready. Now start writing. Continue to write. Then write some more until your first draft is completed.
Don’t edit, just write.
Enjoy the experience.
Personally, I love ghostwriting memoirs because I get to meet new people and help them share their life stories with others. While doing so, they usually remember new details about their lives that they’d forgotten for decades. And, in the end, they always learn a lot, as do their readers. The process is so rewarding!
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