Newbie memoir authors would be wise to answer this fundamental question: Am I writing a memoir or autobiography? Though similar, they are not the same.
Autobiographies are books authors write about their entire life, usually in chronological order. Memoirs focus only on a part of the author’s life and are seldom sequential. Memoirs also differ from autobiographies because they tend to be more emotional and to read like a novel.
Determine the central life event of your memoir, such as one of these memoir themes (e.g. divorce, abuse, adoption, drugs, military service or cancer) and then:
- Keep a list of events and relationships germane to your memoir. The list will grow as you remember more people, places and things important to the central life event of your memoir, thereby adding depth and perspective.
- Write a chapter by chapter outline, but focus on the last chapter first and the first chapter second. Focusing on the last chapter will help to clarify the purpose of your memoir and where to begin chapter one.
- Do not tell your story chronologically! Begin in medias res (“into the middle of affairs”), a literary technique in which the story is told backwards via flashbacks. Chapter one is the teaser that hooks the reader and makes her want to read more. Get it right!
- Do not rely solely on your memories, they are not always accurate. Interview family, friends and others about their perceptions and remembrances. Use letters, photos, diaries, obits and newspaper articles to jog or clarify your memories.
- Set a writing schedule and stick to it. Writing regularly is better than writing for long periods. Get family and friends to honor your writing schedule.
- Keep a notebook or recording device nearby at all times. Memories are fleeting. Record them for future reference.
- Do not concern yourself with getting the first draft perfect. You won’t. Concentrate on getting the first draft done, and then focus on editing and re-editing it to perfection.
- Rather than struggle with or quit writing, invest in a memoir writing coach. A good writing coach will know how to help you proceed with and complete your memoir.
- Hire a memoir editor experienced in memoir publishing to ensure that your manuscript meets publishable standard. Memoir publishers are sticklers for perfection. Most newbie published memoirs required extensive editing. The likelihood of getting your book published is greatly enhanced by employing the expertise of a professional editor.
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