Wednesday, August 8, 2012


 I believe that all writing is to some extent autobiographical. Whether you're writing mystery, or romance, or science fiction, or western fiction, or mainstream, you're drawing on your own experience in some clear or subtle way. And at some point, I think it's wise for an author to pause in his or her creative career and write a memoir. It doesn't have to be totally factual, but it should tell honest stories to honor the experience of living a life. The story or book may not be published, or even publishable, but it's still worth doing. It's a way of keeping track of life's inventory.

Why tell stories based on our experiences? Because that’s what we know, of course. And the more we remember about our past, the more we understand ourselves. Where do the stories of our lives come from? Historical records, old letters, diaries, and journals? Old photographs? An attic full of souvenirs? Memories, both happy and sad? All of the above, perhaps, but also the legends and lore passed down through generations. And don’t forget family gossip, which may not always be true but is always important.

Why should we write these stories down? First of all, for the fun of it. It’s a thrill to craft a good story. But also, we do it as a gift: to the future, to our children, to our friends, maybe even to a larger audience of people who want to know what life during our lifetime was like, as experienced first-hand. Writing life stories is a chance to be generous and self-indulgent at the same time. And again, an important reason to write stories from our lives is to better understand ourselves.

Here  are a few tips to make the stories you write interesting, entertaining, and important.

1. Let the reader know what was going on in the world when the story happened. That way the reader will have some historical reference to latch onto. “In the summer of 1969, when a new generation gathered at Woodstock and a human being planted his foot on the moon for the first time, I realized that there would be no limits to what I could do with my life...”

2. Tell your reader how old you were, or where you were in your social development, so the reader can identify similar rites of passage in her or his own life. “My high school senior prom was a disaster, but breaking up with that person was probably the luckiest...”

3. And where were you in your spiritual development? Not a matter of world history or age, but of some change in your world view. “I leaned a lot from my time in the Vietnam war. The bad news is what I learned about war. The good news is what I learned about friendship...."

4. Write of change. Change is what happens in every good story.

5. Write of choices. Choices are often what bring those changes about.

6. Write of consequence. By that I mean write of things that matter. Get into the part of the story that people care about: love, joy, grief, regret, reward. Celebrate the light, but don’t be afraid of the dark.

7. Be kind. Yes, you can write about people who mistreated you, but treat them as people, not as cartoon characters.

8. Tell the truth, even if you have to lie to do it. Nobody can remember every tiny detail of what happened, but out of every story grows a message of choice and change, and that message must be honest. From your heart.

9. Write a story that’s fun to read. Give it a strong beginning, make it build with suspense to a satisfying climax, and leave your reader with the pleasure of having been entertained.

10. Have fun with your writing.

Enough said. Lesson ten is not optional.


Beryl Reichenberg said...

I found your post thought provoking and wish I had read it before I wrote my own memoir. Writing a memoir helped me figure out who I am, where I've been and where I'm going. Beryl

Sunny Frazier said...

I'm sending the blog over to the Puerto Vallarta writers and Doug Danielson. They have many ex-pats doing their memoirs.

Also, I'm posting it on my FB page. Still trying to get the word out about the OTP memoir contest.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

You did a wonderful job on this blog. Lots of good tips about memoir writing.