Each life is interesting in its own way. Every person has a story to share and lessons learned from simply living. You don't have to have gone through a near-death experience or a tragedy to have something worthwhile to share. Anyone who wants to share their life story can write a memoir.
What is a memoir?
Memoir comes from the Latin word memoria which means “to remember.” It came to mean “note, memorandum, something written to be kept in mind” in the early 15th century. In modern times it is used to refer to a written account of a person’s own life.
A memoir is a biographical book about your life. It is an account of key events that profoundly impacted your life, as well as your insights from these experiences.
Memoirs are very similar to autobiographies, but they are quite different. Indeed, the only similarity is that both are written by the subject and adhere to the truth. However, the way they convey the truth is different. An autobiography strictly tells the author’s life story in chronological order. Its goal is to tell the facts of one’s life in the most objective manner. On the other hand, a memoir is more focused on the insight, the truth conveyed by true experiences. Memoirs don’t necessarily cover the person’s birth to the present; it only covers the most relevant memories of the person.
Tips on writing a memoir
Many say that writing a memoir is a therapeutic experience. It lets you reminisce on important life events with rose-tinted glasses. While the looking back part is pleasantly sentimental, the writing part can be gruesome. It’s easy to get lost in the details and be blocked by the doubt that you don’t actually have anything worthwhile to say. With these foolproof tips on writing a memoir, there will be no room for doubt in your writing process.
- What is your theme?
Although you have the freedom to choose the memories or events you want to write about, it’s not advisable to choose them in random. Think of your memoir as a novel—there needs to be a purpose to the stories. What are you trying to say with your stories? In other words, what is the theme that governs your memoir?
The theme is the message that you want your readers to take away from your memoir. It is the lesson that you learned from your experiences, and what you want to share to others. Look back on the memories that speak to you and think about what they have in common—that is your theme.
Once you have figured out your memoir’s theme, keep this in mind. Everything you write should point the reader to this theme.
- Write in first person
This is your story, your insights, and your words, so why not write it in your own point of view? Writing it from your point of view gives you access to aspects and opportunities that a more objective perspective would not allow. You can tell the story of your life from a unique perspective. More importantly, writing in first person allows you to be more open and vulnerable. Your truth will easily come out and be understood in your writings. An open author is easier for the readers to love because they feel like they are simply talking to you. They may even feel like they gained a friend upon reading your memoir.
- Establish your voice
Since you’re already writing in first person, have fun with your writing voice. Make it as unique as you. Your writing voice is similar to your speaking voice in that it helps your reader identify who is writing. However, unlike your speaking voice, your writing voice is identified by your choice of words, rhythm, and how you use figurative language. These are quirks and idiosyncrasies in your writing. There is no one way to express your thoughts or to tell your story. In the end, what matters most is that you are able to communicate clearly with your readers.
- Show, don't tell
This tip is famously given to fiction writers, but it can also apply for creative non-fiction genres, such as memoirs. Showing is a great way to engage your reader. Vivid details will enable the reader to be involved in the scene, since they can engage their imagination and feel as if they are experiencing the same things as the narrator or the writer. They can interpret and discover your emotions and insights as they read about your experiences.
Contrast this with telling. Telling does not engage the reader—it keeps the reader outside the story, as a spectator. When you tell the reader that you felt sad, they cannot feel the sadness with you. They can’t know why or how you felt that way. Hence, they can’t empathize with you in your memoir.
Here are some tips to help you show more:
- Make use of the five senses. Instead of writing statements, take your time to describe the scene, the characters, or the setting. Describing what the five senses register helps the reader be immersed in the story.
- Focus on actions. A person’s mannerisms can tell a lot about their character, so does their actions and reactions. Instead of telling your reader that someone is angry, try to show it through their facial expressions and/or actions.
- Use dialogue. This is a great way to show action as it happens. However, use this sparingly. You don’t want your memoir to look like a script!
- Avoid adverbs. Adverbs tend to make writers lazy because it compresses an otherwise rich experience into a single word.
This does not mean that you cannot use telling techniques. Balanced writing interweaves different styles of writing to avoid sounding monotonous.
- Connect the dots
Surely, upon choosing a theme, you also carefully chose the stories that will go into your memoir. All your stories are connected, but your readers are not fully aware of this. So, you need to make the connections explicit.
Likewise, your insights in each story should be clear to your readers. It does not need to be explicitly stated, but it should be obvious enough to be discerned by all readers.
Writing a memoir is a lot like writing a fictional story. There are a lot of nuances that you need to tread. Ultimately, there is no one way to write a memoir. After all, it is your story, and you know how to best tell it. These tips that we gathered are merely guides on how to navigate the complicated aspects of writing a memoir.