Some of us are blessed to lead “boring” lives, where we grow up in loving environments, become mature adults without too much trauma, and go on to lead healthy, fulfilled and largely uneventful existences.
Others don’t have that privilege. And they’re the ones who typically end up writing a memoir.
Memoirs are simply the stories of our lives. Written in the first person, they’re completely non-fiction, filled with whatever struggles and triumphs their authors want to share. More than likely, those struggles and triumphs were significant.
In fiction, nobody wants to read a story about a perfect or even semi-perfect life. Those are nice, but “nice” is boring.
It doesn’t sell.
The same holds true in non-fiction. Just ask any news reporter what makes for a clickable story. Or ask a historian what he’d rather write about: a time of perfect peace or a time of significant struggle.
Sad but true, chaos and conflict are interesting. Much more positively though, when we see someone who rises above those burdens, we get inspired to do great things ourselves. And it’s that combination of interest and inspiration that come together to make a truly great memoir.
If writing a memoir is on your to-do list, then you probably have some such significant main message to share about your own life. Something along the lines of “there’s always hope” or “they don’t define me; I do” or “you actually can go home.”
So a great way to start out is to figure out exactly what theme you want to share. This might be something that pops into your head right away, or you might have to journal about it first before you can come up with something.
Either way is fine. It’s not a sign of instant failure if you can’t think of what your main message is off the top of your head. Some of us need to brainstorm, and some of us don’t. It depends on a combination of nurture and nature that we can only control so far.
That’s why Innovative Editing has “Writing Tips 101,” a free informative guide to figure out what kind of writer you are. We’re all constructed a little differently in that regard, and understanding those differences can be the determining factor in our memoir-writing success.
So is knowing when and where to start your personal story, as that will not only springboard your writing efforts but also your future readers’ curiosity. So here are two common but effective suggestions:
Start out at the beginning, acknowledging exactly where you came from. Were you born into a low-income family with a single parent, or a wealthy family where neither parent acted like they cared? While, on the one hand, readers can be shallow in their pursuit of “a good story,” they also want to make a personal connection to that story’s main character: you. Sharing your childhood is an open invitation to do exactly that.
Start out with a wow! What was your absolute highest achievement? Or what was your absolute lowest moment? That might be your springboard into your life’s story. Perhaps it was staring out at a sea of faces, speaking about personal responsibility despite the drug addiction you weren’t battling at all. Maybe that was your wake-up moment. It could be the excitement of seeing your computer screen showing your first real company profit, knowing that all that hard work and self-doubt and naysaying from others was worth going through after all. Get it down on paper, then let it lead you right into the next chapter or segment with an introspective question about “how did I get here?” or an acknowledgement about “it wasn’t always this way.”
Once you start, don’t stop. Set yourself a schedule to write a certain amount per week. And then stick to that schedule.
You’ve already accomplished enough in life to understand the power of self-determination. So put it to good use again if you really want to say that yes, “you're writing a memoir. And it’s going to be something amazing.”