How to Write a Memoir…Binbrook Women’s Institute Presentation…

March 29, 2017- I’m absolutely honoured to speak to the members of the Binbrook Women’s Institute today about the Do’s and Dont’s of Memoir Writing. I’d like to share my points with you so that if you’re ever inclined to pick up a pen and start writing your story, you’ll know where to start.

Memoir- Is a French word that means memory or reminiscence. The dictionary defines it as a historical account or biography that’s written from personal knowledge or special sources.

It sounds like memoir and autobiography are the same, but in the publishing world, they’re not.

There’s a key difference that publishers use to define each—the timeline covered in the writing. An autobiography focuses on the chronology of the writer’s entire life while a memoir covers one specific aspect of the writer’s life.

How to start your memoir The Do’s and Don’ts

  • (DO) Decide if you’re going to write a biography or a memoir-This is super important if you’re going to a publisher with your story. We want to know if it’s a complete work of your life or just a fascinating piece of it. This helps us as publishers, to position the book in the market.
  • (DO)Do an outline-I cannot stress this enough. An outline is an invaluable tool that allows you to stay on track and know where you’re going with your story. And let’s face it, your life is a story, everyone’s is. Without an outline, it’s very easy to get sidetracked, lose your place and procrastinate.
  • (DON’T) If you’ve chosen to write a memoir, don’t begin at the beginning. Remember the difference between memoir and biography. In memoirs, readers want to know the most exciting or emotional point in your life. Eg. The summer of 1978. Be specific in your memoir.
  • (DO) Use all of your senses while describing your scenes. Eg. The air was thick with humidity, and the rumble of thunder (Sound) in the inky blue sky (Sight) made the skin on the back of my neck prickle (touch). I loved the smell of the salty ocean especially on days like this. Seagulls flapped above the patio as I took a long drink of beer (taste) from a frosted glass. (Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell).
  • (DO BUT DON’T) Show don’t tell! This is SO important! As an author, I’ve been browbeaten with this term, and I also obsess over this with the authors that I publish. Don’t tell me the moon is shining…show me how it drips across broken glass in an abandoned parking lot. Show me how it catches in his eyes and illuminates his face.
  • (DO) Tell the Truth-This might seem obvious to all of you but there have been plenty of scandals on tv about people writing fiction and passing it off as their own life or true story. Does anyone remember the man who wrote a book about meeting his wife at the concentration camp? He was on one side of the fence, and she was on the other, and she gave him an apple. His story was so compelling that he was on Oprah twice. Once for the story and again to apologize to the public. The only way you would get away with lying about your life story is if everyone you know is dead and if you were planning on moving to a place where no one has ever heard of you. You will eventually get caught though when someone asks you questions about your life/book, and you can’t corroborate your story.
  • (DO)Sit the reader next to you- What I mean by this is, illustrate your life in the first person. This makes sure the reader is involved in your story. They have more empathy, and they’re more engaged. You don’t want them to be an outsider looking in, you want them to be sitting right next to you. Here’s an example. Who wants to read a story that starts with, “Lacey L. Bakker was born on June 14th, 1982. She was 6 pounds 12 ounces and had 10 fingers and 10 toes.” Honestly, no one cares. Sorry to say but you need to start your story out with something interesting. It needs to engage the reader if you ever want a chance of being published. If being published is not something that you care about then, by all means, start your story off with facts. But, how much better does this sound? On June the 14th at precisely 8:00 in the morning there was a lot of screaming. Not just from me but from my mother as well. I was stolen from my place of comfort and darkness to be plunged into the light by a perfect stranger surrounded by people in masks and gloves. I was naked and covered in someone else’s blood. See what I mean?
  • (DO) Create an emotional journey-Make your reader feel something. Whether you’re concerned with getting your book out to the masses or just a few people this piece of advice stays the same. Make your reader feel something, and they will always come back for more.
  • (DON’T) Don’t live a boring life!-If you don’t have anything interesting to write about, then you need to get out there and do something worth writing about. You don’t want your life story to be: I was born, I worked, and I died.  Life is to be lived, and there’s an entire world full of adventure in front of us.
  • (DO) Have fun-Make sure that you’re having fun with the process of writing as well as the writing part. Add humour if it’s something you want to add, be silly, show your readers who you truly are and don’t leave the funny, fun or embarrassing parts out! These things allow us to all be connected. They show everyone that we are the same. People will relate to you and after all, isn’t that the point? To relate to each other and say, I know how you feel!
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