Write it–Whose Memoir is it, anyway?


photo by Patricia Herlevi

photo by Patricia Herlevi

Yesterday as I sat in a writing group listening to thoughtful writers give suggestions of what I should include in my memoir, I asked the question, “Whose memoir is it anyway?” We must discern other people’s agendas and make sure that we write our books from our own intentions.

As writers we often suffer with insecurities. Many of us wear our hearts on our sleeves and we worry about harming others through our mighty pens. Yet, if we don’t write with integrity coupled with compassion, then others will see our writing is incomplete and try to fill in the gaps with their opinions and agendas. Everyone has an agenda, no exceptions.

The other trap we fall into when writing memoirs revolves around bringing social causes into our writing. Perhaps our professors taught us about overarching themes and telling universal stories. Then we mistake our personal stories for journalism even going as far as pulling facts out of media research. I did some of that in my memoir, but thankfully, only sprinkled my manuscript with this type of research.

For me a memoir is a place to share personal feelings and experiences with others in a cathartic manner. But this doesn’t mean we couldn’t write a hybrid memoir that combines journalism with personal experiences. This is tricky business however since journalism thrives on objectivity and memoirs on subjectivity. How many of us go fact-hunting when we’re in the throes of an insufferable life event or situation? Only in retrospect did I discover information that shed a new light on my own experiences living between homes for three months. We often search for a bigger meaning for our experiences or how we fit into the bigger picture.

Here are tips to writing a memoir that is true to you:

  • Come up with a mission for your memoir
  • Find the right angle to tell your story
  • Create structure to tell your story
  • Decide on one or two themes then stick with them
  • Tell yourself it is your story to tell
  • Make sure that you’re not writing a rant to attract sympathy
  • Ask yourself, “Is this true for me?”
  • Ask yourself, “What is my story? What is this really about?”
  • Decide what to keep and what to delete
  • Plot your memoir
  • Don’t clutter your prose with facts just to tell a universal story

I find that writing a memoir is different than writing non-fiction books (such as self-help or journalist exposes), and fiction in that you are essentially telling a story from your personal experiences. The story is about you, yes, you involved in relation to the world, but mainly the internal you as you journey through a situation. Find the balance between your story and a universal theme, but don’t leave so many holes in your story that other people fill them with related themes and social issues du jour.

For instance, I chose to tell my story as a spiritual journey involving using tools from the Law of Attraction. Yes, I could rant about the homeless situation or discuss in greater detail, people surviving with multiple chemical sensitivities, but those aren’t the stories I choose to tell. While I hope that my story brings catharsis and healing to others, I’m not going to focus on more of what I don’t want in my life (which would be to focus on social issues or disease).

I also chose to write my story from a humorous angle using a naive and ironic voice. When it comes to choosing a theme, I pick the loss of innocence as my theme. This theme usually appears in coming-of-age stories, but we can lose our innocence at any age then through an inner journey experience an epiphany that leads to wisdom. In the end, we’re all on a quest, but only a few of us grab our pens and transform the quest into a memoir.

I’m an author, astrologer and intuitive coach. Learn more at Metaphysics for Everyday Living.

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4 thoughts on “Write it–Whose Memoir is it, anyway?

  1. Thanks for the update on your memoir-writing adventure, Patricia. I enjoy reading the updates. This is such a great insight, too: “.. but we can lose our innocence at any age then through an inner journey experience an epiphany that leads to wisdom.” That’s for sure. And that’s likely what makes for good ‘memoir fodder’! Blessings, Jamie

  2. This type of writing sounds very tricky – easy to get distracted and wander of the trail. You’re guidelines look pretty solid. Very astute first paragraph. Using a humorous angle sounds like the prefect match with you.

  3. Yes, writing memoirs is deceptively tricky because when we write our own stories it’s easy to get lost in all the details. The main task is to focus on the angle and structure for the memoir then delete all the extra details.

    Humor helps when dealing with a darker topic such as with my memoir (potential homelessness). I like to give Liz Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” as an example because it’s actually a comical memoir despite Liz curled up and sobbing on the bathroom floor. As with all memoirs I think it’s important to have a strong beginning (an inciting incident), engaging middle section, and satisfying conclusion which isn’t always a happy ending.

    Sometimes the conclusion reflects on the end of one life stage and the beginning of the next. An example would be an author reaching peace about the death of a loved one then preparing for the next stage of his or her life.

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