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10 Tips to Boost The Quality of Your Memoir

Writers ask me what they can do the most easily to write better memoir. The following are my recommendations to boost the quality of your memoir.

1. First, make a Memory List.

A Memory List is a list of every important event, influence, and relationship in your life or in any particular era. It can be hundreds of items long! Why bother with this pre-writing task? Because it’s such a handy resource when you do write. Having a Memory List to refer to will help you focus on the highlights—the stories most deserving of your effort. Detailed information will let you tell the whole story as you truly want it told.

2. Write the most important stories first.

Resist the urge to write from the beginning. Start anywhere! The most important step is to start writing. Concentrate on single stories instead of on your life as a whole. It’s discouraging to think of writing 200 pages, but everyone can write one three-page story.

3. Double check your memories.

Memory can be false, flattering, and defensive. Interview people who were there and crosscheck your details. Use all the props available: letters, diaries, obituaries, photos, certificates, newspaper articles, etc. Research your locality, your region, the era, history, etc., to give authenticity and context to your personal story.

4. Tell the truth as much as you can.

You and your roots are okay no matter what. You don’t need to alter your story to prove your worth or to conceal your past. Use lifewriting as an exploration and a celebration, not as an occasion to settle old scores. And remember: you have a right to privacy. While it may be growthful to write certain stories, you only have to share what, when, and with whom you want to, but tell the truth when you share.

5. Be specific.

Use proper names, give dates, describe in detail. You almost can- not give too many details. Don’t be vague or general. Use all five senses.

6. Explore the tall tales in your family stories.

What did the people around you want you to believe about them? Every family tells stories about itself that cloud the truth. Try going beyond the official family “line”.

7. Avoid using clichés and stereotypes.

Personalize and particularize. Let your own voice do the talking. Simplicity is always best.After nine words start to think of ending that sentence. After 15, end it. Always let your first draft be a rough draft. Don’t make yourself get it perfect before going on. Polishing your text is a later step.

8. Set up a schedule for yourself.

Honor your writing time as you would any important appointment. Ask your family and friends for their support in making time for this commitment. Writing regularly is more important than writing for long period. Be patient and enjoy yourself. Lifewriting can bring you great pleasures.

9. Start a memoir writing group with friends.

For encouragement and support, it’s great to share with others. But beware of two opposite but equally discouraging reactions: “Isn’t that lovely, dear. Everything you do is wonderful!” or “What a waste of time—all that old stuff?!” You need and deserve kind but constructive criticism. Sharing with those who will honor your effort and challenge you to do your best.

10. Be a show off!

Share your stories with friends and family. Accept their praise and appreciation for your accomplishment. Writing your lifestories is a valuable gift to give yourself and to all who come after you. Sharing your stories will also encourage you to view your stories more critically.

Action Steps

1. Implement any suggestion above that you have not yet put into action. Don’t dismiss the value of any suggestion without having tried it.

2 What are your tips for writing better memoir? Leave a comment below for your fellow writers.

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