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Drafting and Finishing Your Memoir

Aug 30, 2022
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We have autobiographies, which are writings that cover the entire lifespan of the writer. However, some writings depict a particular episode or a series of touchstone events from a person’s life. They are called memoirs

A memoir is a first-person, nonfictional written account of events and memories based on the author’s actual life. Memoirs center on intimacy, personal experience, and emotional truth —memoir writers frequently manipulate their memories and real life to tell a good story. As a result, memoirs are not constrained by formal expectations regarding chronology or factual accuracy. A memoir differs from an autobiography in that it does not tell the story of your entire life. It is a slice-of-life story about a portion of your life. 

The popularity of memoirs has shot up rapidly and has taken a dip as well, over the centuries. Memoirs from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the twenty-first century can be found in abundance. However, the popularity of memoirs could also be due to the advent of the internet and the ease with which we can research and publish our own stories. 

Let us take a look at some of the techniques used by writers to draft effective memoirs:

1. Avoid writing your entire life history: 

If you look at the most famous memoirs, you can notice that the writers have shared snippets from their own lives. Trying to tell your entire life story in one sitting can turn out to be a daunting and intimidating affair. After all, it is impossible to cram thousands of different moments from your life into a single book-length account. When writing memoirs, concentrate on specific events in your life, such as a vivid emotional memory or a turning point in your life. This can help your readers invest in your writing emotionally and see the events you have gone through your lenses. 

2. Try to create a sensory experience: 

One of the most difficult aspects of writing a memoir is translating your own experiences into a paper in a way the reader can engage with and inhabit. The best way to ensure that your first draft isn’t boring is to fill it with vivid details, using all of your senses to tell your story and transport the reader back in time.  

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Since a memoir is a profoundly personal nonfiction book that you will share with strangers, tell your story as if you’re sharing a secret with the reader that you’ve never told anyone else before. This approach helps you establish trust by immediately turning the reader into a confidante. 

3. Do not follow any chronological order: 

If you’re writing a memoir for the first time, it can be quite tempting to start writing from the beginning of your life and work your way forward. On the other hand, the best memoirs do not tell their stories in chronological order. Memoirists frequently begin with an immediately compelling story or moment from their lives they will circle back to at a later stage, only to be explained in detail. This technique will help pique the reader’s interest right away. 

Pick a dramatic moment to begin your memoir with. You can go back to the event in greater detail later, but giving the reader a sneak peek at what is in store for them can keep them interested.  

4. Use narrative techniques used in writing fiction: 

A good memoir should be as compelling as a best-selling novel. Even if you’re drawing heavily from your own life experience, you should feel free to incorporate techniques from novels and short stories. To increase suspense, recreate scenes with dialogue. Always keep in mind the motto, “Show, don’t tell” by describing action rather than meaninglessly explaining everything. These techniques will help to bring color and life to your writing. Remember to use exposition to increase the drama. 

5. Cut down on your characters and events: 

You will be very tempted to incorporate all of your family, friends, and loved ones into your memoirs. However, limit your attention to the people and events that are essential to the themes of your own story. Just because you had a great high school English teacher or an inspiring boss doesn’t mean that including them simply for the sake of it in your memoir will help you explain the specific ideas you’re attempting to explore. 

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6. Write every day: 

This may seem obvious, but the best thing you can do if you want to start writing your memoir is to write every day. Make an effort to establish a routine. Set aside a specific location and time of day to write every day. Set a daily word count goal for yourself. Make sure you’re on track to meet your deadline (and if you’re self-publishing, set and stick to your deadline).  

Given below are some of the best-selling memoirs which you can refer to before starting to write your memoir, if you plan to do so: 

  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert 
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. 
  • Walden by David Thoreau. 
  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. 

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