Writing Wednesdays: Writing A Memoir People Will Actually Want to Read!

           I started a memoir for two reasons. The first was my family history—or rather the lack of it. My grandfather was in World War II. My grandmother had to have a double wedding with her sister, even wearing identical dresses, because of difficult financial times. My grandparents went through the Great Depression. They lost their first baby. The served God, raised children, and gave us grandchildren a beautiful legacy.
            Only they never put it in any form we have to keep. I want to tell my own children their stories, only the stories died with them. I have hints of stories, but not enough facts to create a history from them.
            The second reason for my memoir was equally important. I had been having unusual, difficult health problems for over ten years. As I faced my second pregnancy under the category of high-risk, still with a confusing and undefined condition, I wanted our stories on paper for my own children and grandchildren to know and learn from—if I were not around to tell them myself.
            Life is fragile. And beautiful. And each of us has experiences worth recording.
            So if you are considering writing a memoir, here’s the question you need to start with:

Why do you want to write it?
1.      To share about family? (You don’t want to lose your own history?)
2.      To tell about an era or historical event? (You were in Vietnam and want the world to know what it was really like?)
3.      To become famous? (You know juicy secrets about a famous celebrity and this is your ticket to stardom?)

            Next, keeping in mind how you answered the above, there are different ways to approach writing a memoir:
1.      Chronological—in my personal opinion, this method is phenomenally boring. If I see “Chapter One: So-in-so was born on such-and-such a day in such-and-such a place,” I immediately want to close the book, or at least skip about three quarters in to the interesting part.
2.      Topical—this is when you tell your story from subject to subject. For example, all the love stories in one section, then the difficult stories, then the happy stories, etc. This can be interesting if, say, you are writing about the past four generations of your family, and reading about their similar experiences throughout different eras of history would be interesting.
3.      Random—like a blog, a random memoir goes along like a conversation, with you giving incidents as they come to mind. This works if you want your memoir to be casual, or if you have a lot of great stories within specific topics that might get too much if you keep them together.
4.      Event-based—these are best when memoirs are created from an important event people are interested in. When the author of “Let’s Roll” wrote a memoir about her husband, people were interested because he gave his life on September 11th saving the lives of others.  In that book, the chapters bounced back and forth, starting with the event people were most interested in, then going to the person’s life story, back to the event, then back to the person’s life, until they combined in the culmination of the person’s story as well as the event.
5.      Historical or Era-based—this chronicles your journey through historical events or eras that resonate with the reader’s memories. Say you were actually there when sliced bread was invented, you planted a victory garden during WWII, or were at Woodstock, or JFK’s funeral. Your story, told through the eyes of history, pulls readers into the history with you.

            Regardless of how large or small your audience will be, you will want your memoir to be, well, memorable—and for good reasons, not bad ones! Therefore, you want it to be well-written, and presented in such a way that, like any other written piece, makes the reader want to read to the second sentence, to the second chapter, through to the end.
            You likely have a story worth telling. If so, it is worth the effort to turn it into a story worth reading!

            So once you decide what type of memoir you want, what next? Find out next week!

 This was published in Southern Writer's magazine earlier this year!


  1. Great information, Kim! I've taken the 9/11 book approach with Joe's love story. It was really hard to figure out at first. But I like how it culmintates in ONE EVENT and bounces back and forth showing backstory up 'til that point. Well, less bouncing in the latter parts of the book. It's done, now just going through the editor's changes.=)

  2. Wow, it's done! Congratulations!!! Can't wait to read it. =)


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