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November 29: How to Write an Introduction for a Memoir

November 29 Activity: The introduction for a memoir can be pivotal.

Do not omit to write an Introduction to be placed before the first chapter of your book. The Introduction lets fly a hook to get the reader caught so s/he reads on. In a bookstore, the Introduction is often what the reader peruses. Online, the sample copy usually includes the Introduction.

When you write the Introduction for a memoir, be sure that the pages either pose a low-point (nadir) problem—how was I to extricate myself from this morass?—or offers a zenith of your experience—how did a girl from a small mill town in the American Rust Belt end up being CEO of the year in Inc Magazine?

When you are writing a memoir and not an autobiography, Your Introduction can be set in a time when you were completely involved in the problem. If this is what you choose, begin at a point close to the ending. For example, if this were a memoir about a divorce, you cannot reasonably depict your first date in the Introduction. (That would be too taxing on the reader!) Instead, the Introduction would do better to portray the marriage counseling session in which it became evident to you that this marriage will have to come to an end. The last line of your Introduction might be I now had to accept to proceed with this divorce.

Following on this, you can circle back to the first date, work your way to the counseling session and then go beyond.

Action Step

1. As you reread your stories, look for an episode that can serve as an Introduction

  • a nadir: how did a boy with so much promise become a homeless person?
  • a zenith: as I looked out on the admiring crowd that had gathered to listen to me, I knew that I had overcome the shame that had locked me in for so long.

2. Pare this story down to 500-700 words. The longer version will still appear in the book itself.

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