All of us have lived through dramatic times of ecstasy and pain. For the sensitive and sensate person, memories of these events are etched in the psyche and have molded us into who we are. A memoir is a way to touch at the heart of those feelings and allow them to be shared with others.
A memoir is different from an autobiography because it takes a “snapshot” of certain events in a person's life. A memoir tends to read more like a novel. Usually a memoir is written in more colorful language than an autobiography and only relevant information is included—not everything about a person's life should be shared.
So how do I get started, you may ask? Here are twelve steps I followed in writing my memoir of adoption in Children of Dreams.
1. A memoir should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There should be a problem, a conflict, and a resolution.
2. It might be helpful to pull out old pictures, diaries, and objects to bring to memory the experiences you are writing. If possible, go to the scene and relive the events in your mind.
3. Allow your feelings to flow freely from your mind and heart—they may be painful, terrifying, hurtful, crazy, or not understood, but to write a good memoir, you must bring the buried nemeses to the surface and write with passion.
4. Listen to music that will transport you from your surroundings to the time and place of the memoir. I like classical music, but anything that stirs your emotions and allows your mind to be absorbed back into that moment will work.
5. Don't do any major editing until you've written all that you can remember. Worry later about clean-up. If you edit too soon, you may change something that is important.
6. Expect to feel like you are going crazy. Your feelings may create powerful emotions that are buried deep, but when you write those hidden passions and distorted thoughts on paper, it can be cathartic. The story may even write itself and come to a resolution you never thought possible.
7. Make sure you validate facts. A memoir is based on truth, so dates, times, names, people, and sequence of events are important. Otherwise, your credibility may come into question if something you have written is shown not to be true. It may be necessary to change names or locations, and this is acceptable provided you put a disclaimer at the beginning.
8. A good memoir is rich in color—metaphors, similes, descriptions, dialogue, and feelings will make your memoir come alive.
9. After you've written around one hundred pages, take some time to reflect on what you have said. Then put it aside for a few days, don't look at it, and come back and re read it. It will be easier to spot things that need to be revised or rewritten. Save deletions for later.
10. Be kind to yourself. Writing a memoir is a very personal, gut-wrenching journey.
11. After you have written the rough draft and edited it as much as you can, including deletions, give your memoir to some trusted friends for feedback. You may see a pattern in their comments, and that's a good indication of what needs further revision. Don't be shy and seek a professional editor if needed.
12. Never give up. Never, never give up. Need I say it again? Never, never, never give up.
Why write a memoir, you may ask?
First, the memories are important to you. The intimate details will soon be forgotten if they are not written down. The memoir validates your experience and gives meaning to your life. Your memories become a treasured journey for others to learn from and enjoy.
A memoir can be a gift to your children, your parents, your friends, your country, and the world. Only you can tell the story that you've been given, and other people's lives will be enriched. Most of all, if you're like me, you will be set free from the past and empowered to write your next story.
You will be changed and healed in ways that would not have been possible without writing your story. Having gone through the journey twice, you will be wiser. Perhaps you will touch others in a way you couldn’t have imagined because the “gestalt” of your experience is universal. Most importantly, you will have accomplished what you set out to do, and that is to write your memoir.
I say it again, never give up. It will be worth it when you have finished.