In the words of Jay Gatsby, ‘everyone must have a biography’. In other words, every human being has a story to tell. What’s more, we want to hear those stories. We want to know more about how people lived their lives, and we want to be inspired by their adventures. This blog post will tell you how to write a memoir, including tips on how to structure your book proposals and pitch your book to agents and editors. Let’s get started.
Get The Facts Right
The first and most crucial step to writing a successful memoir is knowing the facts about your life. What makes a memoir so special is that it is a raw, uncensored look into the human experience. For those who were there, a memoir can be an emotional account of what happened. For those who were not, a memoir affords the author the opportunity to bring the history of others to life through their dramatic retelling of the events. Either way, you need to get the facts right. This means you need to be completely honest about the circumstances of your life. It also means you need to be precise about the timeline of your life. Be sure to write down all the important dates – from major events such as your birthday, to the day you took a walk for the very first time, to the first day of school, the first day of summer, and so on – so that you can revisit these events in your memories as you write. Keep in mind: a memoir is about you and how you experienced your life, so you should not include anything that the person reading the book might not understand. For instance, if you are writing for a children’s audience, it is advisable to keep some things a secret, especially if they are personal.
While it is important to be factual about your life, it is equally important to be creative. You need to find the events in your life that are the most inspiring and make them the foundation of your memoir. What makes this step so important is that you need to find the right combination of events that will inspire you. If you can, find a theme or story that spans multiple chapters. For example, if you have a chapter about your childhood, another about your teenage years, and a third about your early adult years, then you have a story that spans three chapters and can serve as the backbone of your book. The main character in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones could have been based on any one of her four main characters. Each chapter of the bestselling epic novel is built around a different skeleton – a key incident that affected each character. The incident that forms the backbone of the first chapter is the murder of a young girl and the subsequent investigation. In Sebold’s creative genius, each subsequent chapter builds on the foundation of the previous one, creating an interlocking narrative that is both beautiful and unique. In order to stand out among the many memoirs being published, you need to find the events that shaped your life and make them the foundation of your book. Make a list of all the things you can think of that have inspired you over the years, and you will have a good start on your creative process. From here, you can evolve the plotline of your story, as well as the theme or central idea that will underlie all of your writing. Once you have a theme or idea, you can develop the plotline to fit it. Ensure that your plot is tight and cohesive, and has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Find Your Narrator
You have a story to tell. You are the perfect candidate for the job. You have been there, you have seen it all, and you can put it into words better than anyone. You just need to find the right person to tell your story. This is where the craft of writing comes in. You need to find the voice of your story, the person inside who can put it into words the way it happened. There is absolutely no rush to find the perfect person to write your memoir. Take all the time you need to find your perfect match. Write down everything you can think of that might help you find the perfect voice for your story. This might include taking a walk down memory lane, reviewing your old photographs, or listening to music (yes, really). Once you have a theme or idea, start writing down short anecdotes about your life. These will eventually form the basis for your chapters. As you write more, you will find your perfect match. You might even write a few chapters simultaneously with your match, creating a complete book in the process. When you find your perfect match, set a meeting with an agent or a publisher. At this point, your memoir will be a far cry from the sprawling tome of a self-absorbed author who thinks only of himself.
Writing a memoir is both challenging and rewarding. You will learn a lot about yourself in the process, as well as about the power of words to bring people together, to illuminate the past, and to inspire the present. Don’t be discouraged if your first efforts do not come out as perfect as you would like them to be. Every attempt will educate you and help you improve your craft. Every story will have a happy ending, thanks to the power of words and the transformative nature of writing. To quote Richard Simmons, “if you can’t beat them, join them”. So go on, tell us your story. We’re all ears.