A memoir Is a story about your life, tracing your experiences, hopes, failures, success and triumphs. It’s also a way to share your wisdom and leave a legacy. Some famous memoirs are: “Memoirs of a Geisha,” which was written by a ghostwriter, and “Angel’s Ashes,” the famous Frank McClure memoir about growing up in Ireland. The “Memoirs off Geisha” movie was a blockbuster, while the movie version of the McClure memoir also won many awards. How to Start a Memoir How do you condense decades of your life Into a comprehensive, engaging and compelling narrative?
One way to start a memoir is to tell your story to a ghostwriter. The ghostwriter digitally records you talking, transcribes the material, then edits and revises it into a memoir. You can start a memoir by creating a timeline. You do this by creating a timeline of the period you want to write about, then listing the key events and emotional experiences that happened at each point. Another way to start a memoir Is to simply start Journaling your life experiences, Including your memories, thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to say, worry about saying it right, or simply can’t remember the details. Just get started.
Once you have something down, you can start picking and choosing which experiences you want to focus on in the narrative. Then write more about that. After a while, you can organize the material and shape it into chapters. You can then hire a ghostwriter or editor to read your Journal, organize the material and edit It Into a compelling memoir. If you are unsure. You can start a short memoir _ Short memoirs allow Individuals to tell their stories without committing time and resources to an extensive autobiography. 12 Tips on Writing Memoirs 1. Be Kind to Yourself You are not going to remember some things you wish you could.
And you will remember things you wish you could forget. It’s k. Life is like that. It is filled with ups and downs, triumphs and despair. While it may be painful or exhilarating to experience, it is also what makes a good memoir. Writing a memoir is as much about telling the truth about your life, as it is recording Important events. As you write your memoir, remember to have compassion for yourself, 2. Memory is Unpredictable You never know when or how your memories will emerge. You may remember the strangest details like the smell of your grandmother’s kitchen but not remember there important facts like your grandmother’s maiden name.
That’s k. The answers may come in dreams, chance conversations, photos or letters. Trust that the right memories will emerge. If you are writing about someone who did you wrong, try to find the good in the other person. What redeeming qualities did he or she have? Why did that person behave the way he or she did? What pain did that person experience that made him or her behave that way? The more you can present understanding and even compassion for your “bad guys,” the more interesting and compelling your memoir will be. 4. Just Write Maybe you don’t know what to say. Write that down. Maybe you don’t remember. Write that down.
Maybe you think you sound stupid. Write that down. It doesn’t matter. Just keep the pen moving across the paper; keep typing those words into the computer. At some point, you will find the words start to flow. 5. You Don’t Have to Write You can use digital recorders, software and video to record your stories. You can also hire a ghostwriter to interview you, organize and write your memoir. Many people including politicians, business people, celebrities and everyday people use ghostwriters. Writing a memoir does not have to be hard. 6. One Day at a Time It took you years to live your life and have the experiences you had.
Do you think you can write it down in a few short days or weeks? Probably not. But if you can write Just a little each day, you will have something in a few short weeks and months. Like the tortoise who eventually reaches the finish line, so will you. One day at a time, you will reach your goal of completing your memoir. One day at a time, you will achieve your dream. 7. Turn Off the Inner Critic Sometimes, you need to shut up. Shut up your inner critic, that is. The one that says, “But that’s not right,” “Maybe I’m saying it wrong,” “I’m not good enough to do this,” “l onto know how,” “l need to eat something,” “l have to vacuum the floor… For now, just let the words flow. Write whatever is on your mind, in your heart, from your memories. Let your creativity loose. You will have ample time to turn on the critic later when you’re editing the work. But for now, while you write, turn it off. 8. You Can Change Everything Later Don’t worry about naming people, offending them or being sued. Don’t worry about getting things wrong. You can change everything later names, dates, times, places, details, even the story itself. You can run it by a lawyer, literary agent or publisher later. When you are writing, your goal is simply to get everything down first. . Emotional Truth is More Important than Factual Truth country was that neighbor from? These are all salient details that you might want to know while writing your memoir. But if you don’t remember, that’s k. More important was, how did you feel when your son was born? How elated were you when you received those flowers? How did you feel when that neighbor gave your family the basket of food that Christmas after you had lost your Job and didn’t have money to buy food? Yes, factual details paint the story’s canvas. But the emotional truths memories the story’s soul. 10.
Writing is Rewriting Writing never comes out perfect the first time. Good writing means rewriting. Give yourself the time and space to rewrite material, until you have something that is an authentic expression of your life, voice and wisdom. 11. Get Support Find a writing teacher, coach, buddy or ghostwriter to spot you. A coach can guide and advise you, especially when you are not sure how to proceed. More importantly, a coach keeps you accountable to your own dreams. 12. Hold on to Your Vision When you are stuck or discouraged, remember why you are doing this. Is it to leave a cagey? To share your wisdom?
Think about how happy or touched others will feel after reading your memoir. Think about how your story will make a difference in their lives. Think about how satisfied you will feel completing it. Hold on to your vision of completing your memoir. THE KEY ELEMENTS OF WRITING A GOOD MEMOIR So let’s take a look at exactly how to build your arc, starting with the key elements: the desire line, actions and obstacles, emotional beats, the initiating incident and, of course, the ending. The Desire Line The first step in drawing an arc is to answer this question: What did you (as the orator/protagonist) want in the story you’re telling?
You should be able to state the desire line in a sentence: I wanted to be a psychiatrist. I wanted to stay in the police department. I wanted to love my stepson. I wanted to make a new life in Uganda after the death of my wife. I wanted to be a model though I weighed 160 pounds. Keep in mind that the desire line can change by the end of the memoir. For example, a teen author might begin by chronicling the methodical engineering of his own destruction, but end by deciding he wants to live. Even so, it’s his original desire that rives his character to that unexpected conclusion.
Don’t expect to come up with your desire line immediately: It’s not that easy. The desire line must be one that makes the like, “l wanted to be loved,” or, “l wanted to belong”-?they’re too general simply because everybody wants those things. If you’re stuck, a good way to come up with the specific desire line is to write a one-page fantasy in which you get your ideal ending in the story you’re telling. That’s the story of you getting what you wanted. Now: What was it? Actions and Obstacles Once you have the desire line, you can lay out the events of your book. What did you do to get what you wanted?
What got in your way? Begin planning your story arc by jotting down a list of actions and obstacles: I wanted the desire line). To get it, I To get it, I then But so, I (And so on. ) action). Obstacle) got in my way. In your memoir, remember that you are the action hero. You try a lot of different things to solve your problem, with mixed results. You have setbacks, you make mistakes and you push on, until you either get what you wanted, or you don’t, or you stop wanting it, or whatever. For this reason, the obstacles in your book are Just as important as the actions.
Obstacles are often external: other people (the nurse who got herself written into your mother’s will), bad luck, natural disasters and so on. Even more interesting to the reader, however, are the internal obstacles: the ways in which you screwed up, got things wrong. (After all, we all do, right? If your story is one of pinioning from triumph to triumph, keep it to yourself, thanks! ) Why did you ignore evidence that your husband was lying to you? Or that you were lying to yourself? (In Hold Me Close I start by preening myself on what a natural mother I am.
This is why it’s such a blow when my daughter’s life falls apart. Often the real drama of a memoir is in watching the narrator shed beliefs and behaviors that keep him from getting what he wants. If you can’t come up with a clear list of things you did to get what you wanted-?and of obstacles standing in your way-?that might be a sign that your book concept is too internal, too talky or too dependent on psychological insights (for instance, realizing that you’re leading the life your dad did, or that you married a woman who’s a lot like your mom).
If that happens, revisit your desire line until a clearer, more action-driven story arc presents itself. It could also be that you’re having a hard time identifying actions and obstacles because you’re writing a victim book, in which something bad has happened to you, and all you can do is react, rather than act. Take it from me: You don’t want to write a poor-me book. The best memoirs show how human beings change under pressure, not Just the bad things that can happen to people. And that change means change in you. If you marry a doctor who turns out to be a crook, that’s not change.
It’s bad luck. If you marry a doctor who turns out to be a crook, and you knew all along something was wrong-? hose unexplained phone calls, a repossessed Porch-?then you have a story to tell. Your memoir should be about what you found out about yourself, not about him, the night of his arrest. Be brave. Sometimes there’s a difference between what you want pursuing publication, it’s not a bad idea to recognize this discrepancy early, so you can plan the book differently, this time with the readers’ needs in mind.
Emotional Beats A memoir is an emotional Journey. The events in the story are there not because they happened, but to show the shifts in emotion the narrator (you) goes through, event by event, over the course of the book. These shifts are called “beats. ” A beat is an event keyed to an emotion. Here’s an event: “And then my mother told me she’d had an affair. ” But how does that event affect the story? Here’s the beat: “It was the first time that she made herself vulnerable to me, and for the first time in months, I really looked at her. Take a look at these beats (with the emotional keys italicized, and of course simplified) in my student Erik Johnny’s memoir-in-progress, Wicked Stepmother: (BEAT) Erik is excited to be marrying the man she loves. He has a 5-year-old, Max, but that’s no problem: After all, the boy is with his mother half the time. BEAT) On her wedding night, she waits downstairs in a negligee for her husband to finish putting Max to bed, only to find the two of them fast asleep. She realizes there is an intruder in her marriage. (BEAT) She scolds herself for resenting and disliking the son. (BEAT) She vows to be a good sport.
That very morning, as a first step, she transforms Mama’s bedroom into a page out of Pottery Barn Kids. (BEAT) Being a good sport doesn’t work. (BEAT) She avoids the boy by first staying away from the house as much as possible, and then by taking a Job in India. (BEAT) She is lonely. (BEAT) She decides the answer s to quit her Job and throw herself wholeheartedly into the role of stepmother. (BEAT) She is frustrated when the boys mother excludes her from school events. (And so on. ) Can you see how these beats link together to form the arc? These are the events-?linked with emotion-?that must be traumatized in scene in your memoir.
The Initiating Incident Notice that some beats will be major turning points, others more minor. The most important event/beat comes near the beginning. This is the day the trouble started. You were perfectly content as you were, saw no reason to change, then the trouble came along and wham! Everything you knew about yourself was thrown out of balance. For Johnson, in the previous example, the initiating incident was realizing she had underestimated the impact of the presence of a stepson in her marriage. For another workshop student of mine, it was the day she crossed her college campus on the way to class and stumbled for no reason.
She’d had cerebral palsy since she was 7, and she knew this sudden buckling of her knees might mean she was heading for a wheelchair. This stumble sets off the struggle of the book, with the desire line, “l wanted to be able to take care of myself with no help from anyone. Your own initiating incident (called the “complication” in the short story) might be the day you discovered you were gay, or the day you quit law school or, nibbling toast one morning, read an e-mail that revealed your husband was having an affair.
Before the initiating incident, you might have what is called the status quo scene-?the one that shows you in the midst of your ordinary life before the trouble starts. It might be you will disclose your mutual bankruptcy. It might show you at a house, closing a real estate deal Just before the doctor’s appointment that will change your life. Johnny’s wows her complacently looking forward to sex with her husband even though her stepson is at home. The Ending Incident Picking the end point is crucial. Life goes on and on, but memoirs mustn’t.
Yes, you still have kids, but your story of being a single mother doesn’t need to go up to the present. The desire line defines the ending: When the narrator gets what he wants, or doesn’t, or stops wanting it, or whatever, the story has reached the end of its arc. We see him changed by all that has come before. The cult member recognizes his group for what it really is. This beat that resolves the desire line must be traumatized n scene, Just as with the initiating incident and all other important beats: We get to watch the cult member pack his bags.
My writing partner, Janis Cooke Newman, wanted to become a mother (her desire line) and adopted a Russian boy. She ends her memoir, The Russian Word for Snow, with, “l looked back into his eyes, and at that moment I knew that I would forever put myself between him and all the dangers of the world-?a vicious dog, a speeding car, a bullet from a gun. I had become a mother. ” Drawing Your Arc When you’ve identified all the elements of your arc, it’s time to put them together in a sort of outline. I find it helps to put each event and its accompanying beat on an index card.
One of Johnny’s cards, for example, might read: EVENT: Christmas with the folks. BEAT: They simply and naturally accept my stepson as one of the family. Why can’t I do that? What is wrong with me? Take some time to make your own cards for each element of your story. Then, get yourself a big glass of wine and a couple of undisturbed hours, and lay out all the cards on the floor or a table, in chronological order. As you gaze at your cards, you will see, I’m guessing, not a neatly laid-out story in which each event leads in a logical and satisfying way to the next. Instead, you will see real life.
In real life, the day you realized your husband resented your illness was followed by something entirely unrelated, like that big deal you were about to close at work falling through. This is where you save yourself hundreds of pages of writing and rewriting by simply arranging your cards so that they do tell a coherent story. Do you see events that need cutting? Once we get that your ex is a swine, there’s no need for the six scenes of additional evidence. Are all the flashbacks you’ve planned to include really necessary? If you’re writing about a stroke, you don’t need events eating up to it: A stroke is a freak occurrence.
If you’re writing about being a bad father, however, that memory of your own father passing you in a grocery store without recognizing you might be important. Some cards will need moving around (we don’t necessarily need to know that you got your tubes tied when you were 18 until your fiance announces he wants children). You might also find that some important emotional beats that would help the narrative flow are missing (you time you need to structure your story before you write. Drawing your arc is not something you can knock out in the half-hour before dinner.
It challenges you to survey the tangle of emotions, motives, repetitions and complexities of events you lived through with the cold, dispassionate eye of an editor. It asks you to know not what is important or meaningful to you, but what is important or meaningful to the story. It means regarding the painful events that actually happened to you-?the doctor taping wires to your fingers to shock you into being straight, picking out the urn for your own memorial-?as material. If you find the process of drawing a compelling and satisfying arc overwhelming, you may still be too close to your experience to get any writer perspective on it.
In that case, you might find a writing group or coach especially helpful. Take solace in the fact that Just knowing you need an arc puts you ahead of the game. A good arc is not sexy. You won’t be mobbed by readers at bookstores grateful for all the digressions you took out. But an arc will help get you into that bookstore. “Life is a hopelessly meager thing,” my father said. “What counts is what we dream into it, the words we find to describe it when we arrange Jarring details to make a pleasing whole. ” That’s Just what your arc will give you: a pleasing whole.