Without the “me” in your memoir – the fragile and imperfect person who lived the events in your story – you leave out the human element your readers long to connect with.
You’ve retired. Now, at last, you have the time to work on that book you’ve been wanting to write all your life. Your friends and family are always telling you to write a book: you have so many great stories to share. You’re a natural raconteur. Perhaps they are right. This is your chance. Yes, you’ll write a memoir.
Is what you want to write actually a memoir?
Do you really know what a memoir is? It’s not a collection of your favorite memories, nor is it a biography or autobiography. Both of those genres cover a lifetime, zero to wherever you are now. A true memoir, on the other hand, covers a specific period of time: five, ten, or twenty years in your life. It’s also not a collection of stories or memories. Rather, it presents a single situation, where a person faces a series of crises. These ultimately lead to an epiphany and result in a life-changing decision. In fact, if it’s written well, memoir reads like fiction, with one big difference: the events really happened to real people.
According to Jerry Waxler, author of The Memoir Revolution, the best memoirs are those that give us ”a window into human nature through the lens of story.”
Stories that enlighten us about how we think, or why we do what we do, make for interesting reading. Memoirs that explore psychological development, coming of age, family relationships and values – along with all the grief and hardship of just trying to survive – make for compelling reading. When readers feel and identify with the narrator’s pain and desperation to find a solution to a problem, they pull for the narrator as they read. They keep turning pages hoping for a happy ending. And few things satisfy more than closing a book, knowing that in the end, the narrator came out on top.
The word “memoir” starts with ME
Writing a memoir like that IS possible, but you must put the ME into your MEmoir. What does that mean? Well, just look at the word. If there’s no ME in the memoir – no down-to-earth, ordinary human being who is vulnerable, has weaknesses, thinks things that make you blush, wants to do things she’s been taught not to, says the wrong thing at the wrong time – then your memoir will fail to bring your story to life. This is not the same as crying, carrying on, and railing at everyone who has done you wrong. Your readers won’t have patience for that. It’s about helping readers see themselves and their own frailties and strengths through you.
Your memoir is a selfie in words
Readers want to read about the real you, warts and all. They want to sense that you’re vulnerable; you hurt; you make mistakes but you pick yourself up and try again, just like they do. Think about it this way: Your memoir is a selfie in words. Write that “selfie” and your memoir will speak to a much larger audience than your immediate family and friends. If you have a memoir like that to share, one of overcoming adversity, and can write it without holding readers at arm’s length, then that’s the memoir you should write.
But, you might say, “I’m not famous. I’m not a celebrity. Who will want to read my memoir?”
Some of the best and most important memoirs are written by people just like you. Why? Well, while clinical and scientific information about everything is available at the touch of a button – like diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, ALS, dementia – a memoir writer can tell us how it feels to have those diseases or care for someone who does. The web provides a wealth of information on transgenderism, but who can speak to the experience of changing from a man into a woman, or vice versa, and dealing with the criticism and judgements and life changes that followed better than someone who lived it? And while we can learn a great deal about the difficulties of living in other countries and cultures through the net, nothing compares to hearing about what it’s like to live in a country from someone who has breathed its air and eaten its food, who has lived with, loved, and hated its inhabitants.
Memoirs make a difference!
There are so many incredibly sensitive, often hidden or denied subjects about which it takes great courage to write. But clinical or even journalistic reports cannot move us, provide the depth of connection, or mean as much to us as a first-hand account by someone who’s lived through these true-life situations and isn’t afraid to include the fragile and imperfect “me” into their memoir.
Provide readers who want help beyond the facts and figures with a story that shows them they are not alone, and you will write a memoir that matters. What an important and worthwhile service memoirists can provide!
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