writing wednesday

Why write a memoir? (Writing Wednesday)

What an odd blog post. You might be asking…

Why?

I like celebrity memoirs because they help us realize that everyone has a story. Heck, I’ve even read some on Wattpad. They are great capsules of times past, and you learn what people valued. In addition, you got to read someone’s story and learn from them. Even if you don’t get published? Your descendants may learn about you, and you’ll have a keepsake.

I’m working on my own life story. My goal is to have something to look back on in addition to my box of mementos, as well as to have something to share with my future generations.

Anyone can do it. Here’s how you get started.

Read.

Everyone and their brother has a memoir these days. Just about every well known celebrity has something to say. Pick some up and look at how they do it–their style, what they talk about, what they’re telling you.

Find a “so what?” and a spin/hook.

This is especially important if you do end up publishing, if you’re a non-famous person wanting to stand out. Why are you telling your story? What is the purpose? Why will you stand out from a sea of other memorists? Find a unique spin that you can put on your story. In mine, I’m expressing the importance of creativity and interspersing chapters with sections of stories that I either wrote during childhood or were written later but partially inspired by the event I just discussed. My life as a writer is going to play a good part here.

You can write about your life straight up without a theme to tie it together, but don’t count on getting it published. If you choose this method, your primary readers will be online and family and friends–which is fine in its own right. That’s what I’m doing! But unless you’re an adventurer, author, president, actress, historical figure, or you had something really wacky happen to you of interest, nobody’s really going to want to spend $20 at the bookstore to read about your entire life history (though I’m sure there are exceptions).

But you never know…if you really want to be published and go for something to sell, you might find inspiration in that beginning-to-end memoir. You might build on those stories later and compile them into a book about living in the California wilderness or what it’s like to surf for a living. Speaking of which…

What period or ideas do you want to cover?

Your memoir, especially if you’re trying to publish, needs a theme or purpose. Even if you’re not publishing, an angle adds a lot of interest. You could always go from beginning to end if you’re writing for fun. However, here are some subtopics I could also write about. These are all significant experiences or ideas that shaped my life (except for maybe the first, that might not sell all that well):

Tales from the Table: Tales from a Suburban Life
I Survived Boarding School: True Tales from the Dorms
The Quirky Quaker: Surviving Private School

Sailing My Friend Ship: Stories from the Socially Challenged of Meeting, Keeping, Ditching, and Making Friends

Focusing on a certain period or theme gives your memoir an edge/so what right off the bat. You now have a hook or topic to entice possible readers. Ultimately, I decided to go general with my life from start to the present–I’m not planning on publishing, so I’m free to cover my whole life without worrying about who would buy the random life story of a no name. That means I’ll probably be a little more general in my storytelling, though I will choose some specific moments to focus on too. I don’t just want to rattle off facts. But you never know- I could end up publishing something someday with stories that were based on my original memoir!

What will you write about?

Anything in your life is worth putting down on the page. To be as honest as possible, though, I don’t write down anything that I’m not sure I remember. I also try to avoid inventing long strings of dialogue–a lot of the dialogue in my memoir is brief sentences that I remember being said. I’m surprised how well memoirs work without a lot of it. Think about what readers will like hearing about or could learn from.

To get your brain moving, think of some of these moments to make into stories:
The scariest day of your life
Your hobby (I used to be into theatre and have a chapter called Diaries of a Former Theater Geek, chronicling my experiences in the theater and, with some foreshadowing, eventually leading up to my decision that it just wasn’t what I wanted to do)
A character study of the house you lived in
The toxic friend that locked your other friends in the school basement (true story)
An adventure you went on- on vacation, at school, or with family

A funny story you love to share
A time you truly got in trouble
A scandal you were involved in
A time you stood up for what’s right

Let’s say you wanted to center your memoir on the boarding school experience. Here are some specific topic ideas that might entertain or inspire readers, or end up with a lesson that readers can identify with:

The toxic friend
Grandparents Day when your math class made brownies and burnt them
Dealing with a bad roommate
Learning to get along with that teacher you started on the wrong foot with
Your friend coming out
Entering and leaving the popular crowd

Or, again, you could just go from beginning to end. Write about everything important from the initial campus visit to graduation. Maybe you’ll find chapter ideas as you go.

Make a list.

Consider those topics you want to write about and organize them. I divided mine into 4 sections based on what stage of life I’m in. I write an introductory chapter covering the basics, then I write chapters. Break out your diaries and scrapbooks to decide what are some truly worthy moments.

I recommend going for chronological. Reading memoirs that bounce around between time periods doesn’t really work for me and it can be hard to keep track of events. Of course, if you have some chapters that bounce between periods (i.e. my chapter on acting), not everything is going to be in exact chronological order. That’s okay. Use your best judgment in placing it. For example, in my theatre chapter, I talk a lot about a love interest of mine, who readers don’t know until the middle school portion. So, I placed that chapter in the middle school section even though I started doing theatre in grade school.

A sample abbreviated outline for my project:

PART ONE: GRADE/MIDDLE SCHOOL

Intro chapter: my house character study, intro to neighbors, friends, early life
Beginning kindergarten/introduction to Quaker school-what is Quaker school?
Meeting my best friend, writing stories, inventing playground games that inspired stories
Embarrassments in outdoor camping field trip
That time I joined a Spongebob forum- highs, lows, perks of online friends

PART TWO: HIGH SCHOOL

Intro chapter: middle school graduation, leaving, adjusting to new high school life
The four months I spent at boarding school #1, meeting a toxic friend
Getting sent to social skills camp (yay?) and trying to get into the school that it was at without my parents knowing
Boarding school #2, getting in with cool crowd and later deciding to leave it
The bad roommate

PART THREE: COLLEGE

Intro chapter: overview of college life
How crushes work in college- meeting Tim and the ongoing struggle for attention
Reclaiming my Christian faith but being discouraged by homophobia

PART FOUR: ADULTING (What’s next?)

First job lessons (and crushing in the workplace)

Of course, I’d also make some nods to relevant stories I’d written and include sections of them in between chapters.

Write.

My life story is possibly the easiest thing to write. I don’t have to think of a plot; everything is in my brain waiting for me to retrieve it. Whenever I feel like it, I can work on a chapter and enjoy delving into the memories as I do so. Obviously, you’ll revise, but don’t worry about that right now. Worry about getting everything done on paper and telling a story. Use the list to help you check off aspects you want to mention.

Be Creative! Many who write their life story are becoming more experimental with the style and format. You might write one chapter in present tense, if there is a need. You might intersperse chapters with lists of your favorite things. I wrote a chapter strictly from entries in my fourth grade writers’ notebook. If you’re not publishing, you really have room to go crazy. Write in verse. Write from the perspective of a friend.

Or maybe you’re not strictly writing a memoir. Jenna Fischer didn’t go the route of many of her Office cast members. Instead, she talked about the acting portion of her life and used her stories and experiences to write a guide for aspiring actors. Despite it allegedly having a specific audience, this concept was so interesting that many non-actors also pick it up. Make it into a guidebook or a different form of literature. Write about your grandparents and call it Lessons from Grandpa’s Chair, a list in book form of the things he taught you. Or write a book of poetry. The possibilities are endless.

Remember, take your time because there’s no hurry. Simply enjoy the writing process. It’s the best part.

Get your permissions.

Again, especially true if you’re publishing. You’ll want to make sure that your main players are okay with being mentioned, especially with personal details. And if you weren’t close to them or didn’t get along, it’s probably best to just change names. Control F is very handy for replacing names later on.

Put It Out There

Depending, this may take a while to get to. You may be working a good portion of your life on it. Or, you could release chapters on occasion. Either way, you’ll want to find a platform for your work. Wattpad is pretty good, but be prepared to put hours of effort into the community if you want views. If you’re fictionalizing it a bit, FictionPress may be a good place. Don’t spam FanFiction or other sites not meant for memoirs. You can also put it on a website, or offer it as a download.

USING GOOGLE DRIVE FOR DOWNLOADS

First, formatting.

  1. Copy and paste everything into a Google Doc after you’ve proofread.
  2. Make the first page a cover page.
  3. Adjust the margins so that the text doesn’t take up the whole page if you’d like.
  4. Make sure your full name is the header. Insert page numbers as well.

Next, save it.

5. Rename the document as an easy to read title.
6. Right click it and hit “share.” Hit Advanced on the bottom right of the pop up window. (You may also want to check the tab on the bottom that says “prevent readers from making changes.”)
7. There should be a permission stating “Anyone who has the link can view.” Click “Change” next to that.
8. Hit “On- public on the web” and select Save. Obviously, bear in mind that anyone can see this file. Hit Done.
9. Get the link to the file by right clicking again and hitting “Get shareable link.” Copy and paste.
10. Hopefully you have a website, blog, or other platform with a link where you can share your document. Write something like “Click here to read my life story.” Highlight that text and insert the link–the process will depend on what platform you’re using. Usually there’s a little button shaped like a chain you can click. Or, just send the link out via email if your readers are personal or copy and paste if you must.

Writing memoirs is a great way to let your creative juices flow. If you ever need an in-between project or just some inspiration, try it out! And leave a link in the comments if you desire.