A memoir writing coach provides invaluable guidance
Why write a memoir?
A memoir is a very special, very personal writing project that can offer great benefits. Although memoir writing is not “therapy,” some memoir writers find the process to be healing—and, yes, therapeutic. For others, writing their memoir is a wonderful opportunity to revisit positive moments in their lives.
While many memoirists want to leave a record of their accomplishments for their family, quite a few writers want to share their story with the world. These writers often have learned enormously painful lessons from their experiences and want to pass on their hard-earned knowledge, hoping to help others who find themselves in similar straits.
Perhaps you see your memoir-writing motivation among these possibilities. Or maybe you have an entirely different reason to share your story. Whatever your goals, a memoir writing coach can help you achieve them.
Memoir vs. Autobiography
Both memoir and autobiography allow you to write about your life, but there are distinct differences between the two literary forms.
Autobiography is a factual, chronological account of your life. It may include mention of your parents or other family members or friends who have influenced you. However, your autobiography will be as objective as you can possibly make it.
On the other hand, memoir is much more subjective than autobiography. A memoir is much more a story than a series of incidents. In fact, memoir is known as “narrative nonfiction” because it’s both true (not fictional) and it tells a story (a narrative).
Types of memoirs
Where an autobiography covers the events of a person’s entire life, a memoir is shaped around either a single formative event in a person’s life, or a particular period in their life, or a single topic.
For instance, you might write about the perilous boat journey you took with your parents fleeing Cuba. That’s a single event. Or, you might write about the period that followed: how you spent your formative years in the United States. Finally, seeing this same story line as a broader topic, you might write about how, over the course of twenty-five years, you found ways to integrate your two cultures—Cuban and American—and make a life that honors both.
In addition to considering the shape of your memoir, review this summary from Celadon Books and see if it suggests other approaches for you to consider.
- Transformation memoirs are written after you have endured a great challenge and almost always include a theme of redemption.
- Confessional memoirs are bold; in them, you will share secrets about yourself.
- Travel memoirs share what you have learned about a place—and yourself!—through your travels.
Tips to get you started with your memoir
Here are some of my top tips to get you started with writing your memoir.
- Understand your story’s scope. Where does your story start and finish? Is it about a single event or a subject that has colored your entire life?
- How personal do you want to be? How much of your own personal story do you want to share?
- Research your time period. You may need to do some fact-finding to verify dates or events or details of your memoir’s era or setting(s).
- Make an outline: Because you’re writing a narrative, consider the “plot points” that reflect your experiences. These will form the basis of your outline.
- Find support: Search online for memoir critique groups. Consider enrolling in a writing workshop. Also, solicit readers: You might find readers in book groups, when attending author talks, or participating in library discussion groups. You can also hire a professional reader.
I CAN HELP YOU WRITE YOUR MEMOIR
Looking for additional memoir writing resources?
There is a wealth of knowledge out there to help you with your memoir. As a professional book coach and memoir writing coach, I’ve created a list of excellent articles and books to share with you.
The first three of the resources are articles I wrote in response to questions I’ve heard many times from writers who have serious and significant concerns about writing their memoirs. Memoir writing is powerful—and quite often poignant—creative territory. I hope the suggestions in these articles will help you along your memoir-writing path.
PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK
by Joyce Sweeney, Jamie Morris, and Tia Levings
Are you wondering why I list a book on plotting a novel as my first resource for you? It’s not just because I co-wrote it. Rather, it’s because, as I mentioned, memoir is most definitely a literary form. It is a story that carries its readers along the dynamic thread of a plot—even though that “plot” is your real life!
Consider the ups and downs of your story as if it were fiction (with you cast as the hero!), and you’ll find you can weave a compelling tale that captivates your reader while delivering the truth of your experience.
You see, whether you’re writing a novel or a memoir, my co-writers and I believe in the power of plot! We’ve all found that taking the time to think through a character’s adventures (in your case, your own adventures) before slogging through 80,000 words makes for both a more efficient book-writing process and a better written book! The Plot Clock is the method we believe makes plotting your novel or memoir (almost) a walk in the park.
THE ART OF MEMOIR
by Mary Karr
Mary Karr almost single-handedly transformed the memoir genre with three acclaimed memoirs of her own: LIARS CLUB, CHERRY, and LIT. Fortunately for us, Karr is not only an amazing writer, she’s a professor of literature. This means, she can “talk the talk” as well as “walk the walk.”
Including excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers, Karr lays bare her own process. As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.
OLD FRIEND FROM FAR AWAY: The Practice of Writing Memoir
by Natalie Goldberg
The author of Writing Down the Bones outlines an alternate approach to memoir writing that draws on the examples of inspirational autobiographical works, in a resource that provides a series of timed, associative, and meditative exercises.
WRITING ABOUT YOUR LIFE: A Journey into the Past
by William Zinsser
Written with elegance, warmth, and humor, this “teaching memoir” gives you the tools to organize and recover your past and the confidence to believe in your life narrative. His method is to take you on a memoir of his own: 13 chapters in which he recalls dramatic, amusing, and often surprising moments in his long and varied life as a writer, editor, teacher, and traveler.
BREAKING GROUND ON YOUR MEMOIR
by Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner
In BREAKING GROUND ON YOUR MEMOIR, Linda Joy Myers (President of the National Association of Memoir Writers) and Brooke Warner (Publisher of She Writes Press) present from the ground up―from basic to advanced―the craft and skills memoirists can draw upon to write a powerful and moving story.