It takes guts, honesty, and the ability to turn personal experiences into universal truths to write a memoir. The vast majority of people cannot write a compelling memoir, yet this is not due to a lack of material. This is because few individuals, even authors, are aware of nonfiction storytelling's mechanics.
For entertainment reasons, how can you create a memoir that resonates with people who have never met you? Or, if you're preserving your life for future generations by writing a memoir, how can you do it in a way that's original, intelligent, and authentic?
Writing about a past incident might be tricky since you don't want to exclude details that can harm family members or bore readers to tears.
Avoiding the most common mistakes is an excellent place to start. Many memoirists commit the following six (6) mistakes while reliving their past for the sake of reminiscence or posterity.
6 Mistakes When Writing A Memoir
1. COVERING AN EXCESSIVE AMOUNT
A memoir is not synonymous with an autobiography.
Typically, an autobiography comprises reflections that can only be gained through the lens of old age. Thus, an autobiography frequently begins with the writer’s birth and chronicles their adolescence, a series of questionable choices, two or more hard relationships, eventual victory, and old age.
However, a memoir is not written in this manner. While an autobiography is frequently written toward the end of one’s life, a memoir can be associated with any significant event in one’s life. A memoir is a snapshot of a person’s life.
If you’ve experienced it, you can write about it. However, it would be a mistake to write everything that has happened in your life all at once. Unless you are a prominent person, relatively few people are interested in reading about your life from conception to near-death. Even for public personalities, writing about significant, transforming moments in their lives has a considerably greater influence.
Not sure how to condense your colossal life into a little memoir? Bear in mind that you are not required to write a single memoir. Isn’t that wonderful? You can write multiple memoirs on the various events that affected who you are during your life.
Which incident would warrant a chapter in your autobiography? Expand that chapter into a complete book. A memoir allows you to go deeply into a significant event or to analyze how you felt, why you felt that way, and the lessons you learned.
2. FAILURE TO IDENTIFY THE LARGER STORY
What will your narrative teach the reader?
Determine the lessons you took away from the experience detailed in your book—mine for truth nuggets. Numerous people utilize memoirs as a vehicle for self-reflection and, in some cases, therapy.
If you’re unsure about the lessons you’ve learned, concentrate on the subject of your tale. This is the story’s theme. The theme of your tale might assist in clarifying what you’ve learned.
Several popular memoir themes revolve around the following subjects:
Are any of those subjects (or linked themes) applicable to your memoir? What comment about this subject does your memoir make?
For instance, I was encouraged to write The Crop Duster’s Daughter to give voice to my mom’s gutsy struggle to obtain her dream of flying while living in a man’s world. Born in 1918, my mom truly helped pioneer the way for women's rights to pursue any vocation of their choosing. She believed you could do whatever passion burned within you if you never gave up.
You see, when you tell a tale, it is not just for your benefit and processing; it is also for the benefit of the reader. They should be able to go away with a gratifying understanding of life—particularly when reading a memoir.
Just as you would not tell a tale to someone face to face without making a connection, you should not do the same thing with your memoir. Keep the larger picture in mind at all times.
Do not berate yourself if you do not yet have a grandiose notion. You can begin writing your first draft completely blind to the story’s topic or life lesson. Occasionally, the topic becomes apparent after the first draft is completed.
3. FAILURE TO OUTLINE
Everyone has an opinion about outlining, but my advice is to go for it—particularly when writing a memoir.
One of the primary arguments against utilizing an outline is its limiting nature. An outline can constrain you to a certain sequence of events. However, there is little space for interpretation when retelling true occurrences from your life.
Outlining does not hinder the creative process in creative nonfiction, such as memoirs, but rather aids it. Outlining enables you to recall information that you may have forgotten, such as dates that unavoidably become muddled with time.
Your plan does not have to be precise, but it should include a timeline of significant events leading up to and following the memoir’s conclusion.
If you enjoy the concept of outlining, you can take it a step further. Divide your memoir into chapters and outline the topics you want to cover in each. This form of outline can assist you in staying on track, particularly if you have a proclivity for meandering and digression.
4. BEGINNING AT BIRTH
Given that you are unlikely to recall your birth date, why would you begin your book there? You’ll have to rely on (at best) other people’s perspectives because the objective of your book is, to begin with, your own memories.
Therefore, unless you have a compelling cause, wait to begin your tale until you reach an age when you can recall events.
Furthermore, beginning at birth is a gradual process. The majority of readers want to go right into the action, not wait until you reach the important life event on page 100 plus.
Bear in mind that your memoir does not have to be chronological. You may go between sections and input flashbacks and background.
Additionally, your memoir does not have to span a longer time of your life. A decade, two years, three months, or four hours—you are not required to confine your memoir to a set time period. Therefore, use the method that makes the most sense for narrating your narrative.
5. LOSING CONTROL OF YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE
To whom are you writing?
Always bear in mind your intended audience when writing your memoir. They are equally as vital as the tale you are conveying. If your tale does not strike a chord with your audience, there is no reason to tell it at all.
The audience for whom you’re writing will influence how you tell the narrative.
If you’re writing for an audience that is unfamiliar with you, you should delve into the larger themes of your tale. This is critical so that individuals who have no personal investment in your tale can deduce broader realities.
Additionally, keep in mind that an audience unfamiliar with your tale will not be pulled to it unless the issue is intriguing.
If you’re writing for family members or future generations, the manner you construct your tale may vary. Given that these readers are likely familiar with some of the characters in your book, you may utilize your narrative to provide a fresh viewpoint on those family members. Additionally, you may use your memoir to capture and give insight into your state of mind throughout those formative experiences.
6. FAILURE TO EDIT
Editing is critical, even more so with a memoir.
While you are not required to be impartial about the events shown in the narrative (this is your life; no one wants you to be fully detached), you will require assistance in sorting out the mechanics of nonfiction storytelling.
This is why you should seek the aid of a professional editor. A skilled editor will assist you in identifying weak and superfluous sections of your tale. They will assist you with organizing your narrative in order to convey the finest story possible.
About the Author
Rhonda Ann Colia is the youngest of four children. She is happily married to the man of her dreams and has grown children, a daughter, and two stepchildren living their own lives. She grew up helping her mom load the spray rig with water and chemical mixes so her mom could spray the crops of grateful farmers. Rhonda continues pursuing her writing career and is looking forward to publishing her first novel of three.
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