My future daughter-in-law is working on her memoir. As a female corrections officer in a maximum security prison, she has a lot of stories to share! Knowing that I recently finished my memoir, she emailed a list of great questions to me, and allowed me to share them with you. I’ve also added a few additional questions that I have been asked in the past.
Question: How do I go about writing my memoir? Should I start with my birth family and then move forward?
Reply: The story does not have to be linear and neither does your writing. It is okay to jump around, you’ll piece it all together later. For instance, you might be taking your dog for a walk and a piece of the story comes to you – so jot it down after the walk. This happens to me every day, so I keep paper (and smart phone) nearby at all times so that I can jot down any portion of my story.
Any writer with a smart phone should sign up for Dropbox. It’s a great way to update your work in progress.
Question: Sometimes I write the opening scene in a story and I get stuck, so I’ve been thinking a lot about page one of the memoir.
Reply: Don’t worry too much about page one, just get the stories down. For my memoir, page one came to me like a scene in a movie. I knew that had to be the opening scene. But for my current work in progress, I might change the first scene – I’m trying to not get stuck on page one, though. You’ll discover that many rewrites are in your future..
Question: All memoirs come from first person point of view. I’ve never written in this POV before, any suggestions?
Reply: The hard part of a memoir is to avoid writing “I” too much. But you can edit those things when you’re done. Occasionally, you may need to use a passive voice.
Question: So, when you start writing, do you start in I guess what could be considered “note form?” Like, a list or just jotting down ideas that you can string together later? Or do you try and get the idea down in a coherent story form? I’m always afraid that whichever way I go, I’ll miss something, or miss the opportunity to write the scene to its absolute best.
Reply: This is a great question – I have tried so many methods! The nice thing about fiction is you can do whatever you want, and the hard thing about non-fiction is you’re suddenly limited. Because my memoir spanned over 20 years, I had to look at old records and jot down dates and their associated memories. What helped me the most was writing brief things that happened during that time frame. It kept me on track as to the order of events.
It seemed to work best when I “honored my muse,” meaning that if I felt like writing about an event that was out of order, I wrote that. Non-linear. Everyone does this. If you are inspired to write about an event that is out of sequence, do it. Don’t worry. Chances are you will rewrite it anyway. I had rewritten parts of my story many times before I called it done. Once I find the right publisher, their editor will make me rewrite portions of it again.
I have used outlines before, and what I learned is that they are only a guide. They are just to keep you on track.
So I would say for now that you should make brief notes about events. You’ll probably find that other memories will surface. If you are inspired to write it out in coherent story format, then do so (honor the muse). It is a dance of working both halves of your brain!
What other suggestions do you have for a new memoir writer? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
Keep writing & keep sharing – Cronin Detzz