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vignettes, scenes, dialogues are at the core of your memoir

Vignettes, scenes, and dialogues

Vignettes, scenes, and dialogues are at the core of any memoir—your memoir.

Here are some ideas for writing them more quickly and elegantly.

1. Don’t stop to figure out how these snippets may eventually fit together into a story.

These bits and pieces will accumulate as you recall more and more and continue to write them down. Giving yourself permission to write in small, separate segments (vignettes, scenes, and  dialogues, etc.) is a great way to start writing. Because there will always be your memory list of things to write about, you will never experience “writer’s block!” Fitting these pieces together to craft a polished story will come later, in the rewriting stage. Right now, it’s important to get text-any text-down on paper.

2. For those neanderthals among us: if you start by writing on paper, here is a suggestion to make this early stage easier: write on the backs of scrap paper cut into half sheets.

This will help free you from any obligation you may feel to fill whole blank pages! Feeling obligated to write can quickly make a drudgery of what ought to be pleasurable.

Put these half pages of vignettes, scenes, and dialogues in any order that makes sense to you at the moment. Don’t belabor making sense of things at this stage. Write more vignettes, scenes, and dialogues as they occur to you.

3. When it feels appropriate, go through your individual stories and create an order for them as seems best.

As you re-read them, note where you need to fill in gaps in your emerging memoir or make transitions (“… and because Uncle Boris came to America, my mother was able to… “). These transitions will connect the separate components to each other. What were disparate vignettes, scenes, and dialogues at first (and perhaps for a long time even as you continued to write) will add up to readable, informative stories when you add fillers and transitions. (Eventually many of these stories will take their places in the chapters of your memoir.)

4. After you have many pages of text, the time will come for you to decide that this is better than that, to expand on this piece that now seems too short or to make more concise what had once already seemed economical prose.

This is editorial work, and it has its proper place in lifewriting—but you are not yet at that stage of writing! Right now, you are priming the pump with first drafts. Let first drafts be first drafts.

Good luck writing your memoirs.

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We listen to you speak your story. We ask you a multitude of questions. Then we get to work writing. We come back to you with text and you make lots of corrective comments and we ask you a whole lot of new questions. Then, we go back to writing again.

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