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Do you find yourself wandering along with your memoir writing and not achieving your memoir-writing goals?  Do you have a sense that you might have accomplished a bit more writing than you have?

At regular intervals, it is traditional to review how the past went for you and to recommit to goals for yourself for the coming months. (A goal is a wish with action steps and a timeline.) These goals need to be written and reviewed periodically.

Studies have shown that people who set goals in writing have a better outcome vis-à-vis accomplishing what they set out to do. Here’s a report on one such study. (The famous Harvard goal-setting study so many of us have heard of apparently never happened, but the concept of goal setting is clearly important and is explored in the linked article.)

22 Memoir-Writing Goals especially for you!

 

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One of the writing process steps is to linger with your story. Many, and perhaps most, people write too fast. I don’t mean that they end up with a text characterized by sloppy grammar, spelling problems and chronology issues—although that may be the case, of course.

No, what I mean is that they push through the process of writing their stories much too quickly. They end up with only a part of the story they could have written had they lingered.—and usually not the best part.

So many times in my workshops and in my coaching experience, I have found it easy to tell those manuscripts that have been lingered over from those that have not. As somebody’s face reveals Irish ancestry or Italian heritage, a piece of writing reveals its past.

There is a quality to a piece that has been rushed that is easily discernible to anyone who has learned to write more slowly. So…learn to linger with your story.

One of the essential writing process steps

1. When you don’t take the time to linger with your story, you generally are unable to feel the full import of your memoir.

You can feel your way into the full depth of a story only when you dawdle with it, live with it for a while. Although you may even be impatient with yourself, although others may be asking you for your stories to read, you need to resist finishing your story (and creating a final product) until you sense that you have really exhausted the possibilities of the story in your heart and mind. Only when you linger with your stories in this way will you be ready to produce the very best stories that you are capable of.

Because you have taken time to linger rather than rushing for closure, you are aware of your changing responses and needs. You keep adding to your stories here and deleting from them there so that, over time, the facts and the images and the action—everything—blend into the strong recounting you have been striving for.

In the process of writing memoir and lingering, perhaps you get up from your chair and take a walk. Your impetus is not to avoid your story but to be with it in a different way. While you are fussing around like this with your story, you are actually in a pre-writing stage of composition. In the end, it’s all part of the stages of writing.

Or perhaps you place your story in a file at the edge of your desk and, every once in a while, you pick it up perhaps in between times of working on something else and you reread your text and keep it in mind as you go about your day. That is lingering and that too is one of the steps to the writing process.

You go back, after a while of having put the story aside (minimally a week, but a month or two are even better), to reread what you have written like a good cook always taking a sip of the soup to ascertain if all the flavors are blending together to form a unique taste. As you reread, you are aware of the response the story evokes in you and you check whether you are feeling what you wanted the reader to feel. You assess, too, whether the story you have written conveys what you have attempted to convey emotionally as well as factually.

2. Look to the example of visual artists for a clear model on how to linger with a work-in-progress.

A paper artist I know set a fine example of lingering. Among her work are large collages that include paper (hers and from other sources), wood, metal, etc. When she creates a piece, she invariably brings it to a certain point of completion. The next step may seem elusive, but it has its definite stages.

She brings the piece in from her studio and hangs it up in her living room. Then she lives with it a few days or weeks. As she walks by, on her way from here to there and back, she might take something off the collage and move it to another spot or perhaps take it off all together. Or else she might add something paper, a twig, a piece of string and see how that affects the composition or the tone of the piece.

Sometimes the changes are very small, but the difference to the work can be significant. Once she picked up a twig from the wood box, painted it gold, and placed it on a collage that had hitherto failed to satisfy her. Voilà!

As soon as she had done that, she sensed she had just added what was needed to make the piece whole, finished, a success.

Other times, she will have to do major reconstructions of a piece even several reconstructions with periods of creative lingering between each. And occasionally, alas, she will ultimately conclude that a piece will never come together, will never say what she was going to say with it. There is nothing to be done but to abandon the piece and call it a learning experience, a process on the way to some other piece. The same can happen in the stages of writing.

3. When you linger with your story you get unexpected benefits.

Once you have grown comfortable with lingering, you may surprise yourself by sharing pieces that are nearing completion. This is not the same as talking the energy out of pieces you are thinking of writing nor prematurely believing that the piece is finished.

Ask others whose opinion is dependable and constructively-expressed to read your work. Your goal is to receive developmental critiques. Editing received at these later stages of writing can be very important.

4. It can happen, at a certain point, that you realize you have run out of new ideas and approaches for your story. Where can you learn more of the steps to the writing process?

You’ve already followed the suggestions here and perhaps the exercises in the book Turning Memories Into Memoirs and you have incorporated all the insights you gleaned from them. (Turning Memories Into Memoirs is available with Free S&H and a bonus gift.)

But, you feel you can, and need to, come up with new insights about how to linger with your story. What can you do now? I offer the following:

Action Steps

  1. Read your story aloud to your partner or a friend or pass it on to relatives and ask them for their comments about both the form and the content. This, too, can be part of the editing.
  2. Reread the piece occasionally to experience it as a whole.
  • What do you need to pull out and place elsewhere?
  • What do you need to eliminate or replace?
  • What if you did the literary equivalent of picking up a twig from the wood pile, painted it gold, and added it to just the right place?
  • What difference would this make to your story?

You can read more about the different steps to the writing process here.

To view a version of this post on YouTube, click here

 

I’m about to tell you something contrary to so much advice you’ve received: don’t give yourself permission to write a first memoir draft that is of poor quality and less than what you want.

In this post, I will elaborate on four pillars that will enable you—eventually, of course—to write better than so many writing teachers have encouraged you to do. You will learn to produce at a higher level—that is, at a more polished level—so that 60% to 80% of your first draft will make its way into your final draft. (That’s what I always aim for, and you can, too.)

I urge you not to get rid of the idea that your first draft always has to be deleted and put in the potty. You can learn to write a better first draft than that. If this sounds like what you want to learn to do, stay on to the end of this post. Pillar 3 will contain a question that will change your writing

Today, I’m here to tell you that there will be many sentences and paragraphs in your first draft writing that will find their way into your final memoir draft—and, of course, there will be sentences and paragraphs that you will delete quite happily, but these should be in the minority.

Don’t shortchange yourself with the belief that your first memoir version has to be an embarrassment and will be worthy only of the potty. It does not have to be—the choice is yours.

You can learn to write as best as you can even in the first story draft, or you can convince yourself that you will be writing a terrible first draft. At the end of this post, I will ask a question that may change how you write!

This is the second part of a series of posts on memoir writing pillars. Earlier, I wrote about the three pillars of starting a memoir. Thousands have viewed it. Here is a sequel—The 4 Pillars of Writing a Good First Memoir Draft—which I hope will prove as popular.

quality

The First Pillar: Expect quality of yourself even as you produce for quantity in your memoir first draft.

What you expect is something you will work towards to make happen. So, expect quality and you’ll get quality in your first memoir version. While a first lifestory draft implies there will be a second, this is not to say that your first memoir draft need be execrable. I am not trying to say that, after you write a first memoir draft, there won’t be much to work to do on your story. That’s not what I’m saying

Yes, writers must expect to write a second draft, and a third even. No one can sit down and churn out countless pages of prose that don’t need rewriting. Jack Kérouac claimed he did just that with On the Road, but we know now that he was stretching the truth. His editor, Robert Giroux, at Farrar Strauss did extensive editing of Kérouac’s books. (BTW, if it’s an editor you are looking for, contact us for a free consultation.)

Yes, writing a first memoir draft is your opportunity to let all the words you have bottled up inside of you spill out onto the page. You must go for quantity. Writing for quantity may seem a corroboration of the idea that your first draft has to be awful, but it isn’t. Bear with me.

While there are bound to be spelling errors, grammatical errors, factual errors, and missing information and while these don’t matter at this early stage, this does not give you permission to write poorly, to let bad writing slip in even if you know it’s bad. Don’t tell yourself, “This is supposed to deserve the potty, doesn’t it?”

Let me repeat so that there is no doubt in your mind about what I am saying.  What you are doing, writing for quantity at this creation stage, is exactly right. One important part about writing a first memoir draft is to write it all down, but that is not to say that you must write sloppily.

This pillar which acknowledges you are writing for quantity does not advocate not editing your first draft. You’ll look up the right spellings, correct the grammar and fill in the missing information. I always do. My goal is always to write the best first story draft I can.

This editing can be done as you write, when you are most involved in your text so that any corrections and alterations are in keeping with the tone and focus of the story. In this way, your first draft can result in 60 to 80% of your final draft.

It may take you a while to learn to write this way, but learning this is possible—if you commit to it.

After you write a first memoir draft your anxieties about writing will dissipate when it is done. You will know that you can, in fact, write memories well in the first go around. You know that your lifestories will live on in some fashion, even as that first draft may still be 20 to 40% off what you hope the final memoir draft will be. You will have a tremendous sense of accomplishment. However, you are certain to feel some disappointment with the draft.

Every writer feels disappointment at some stage. It’s par for the course and you need not let it discourage you. Let’s move on to the second pillar which is a corollary of the first.

The Second Pillar: Demand much of yourself as you write a first memoir draft.

Your first draft ought not to be an occasion for you to tell yourself “This is good enough.” No, I am always urging you to write as best you can even in the first draft.

Let me give you an example of memoir writing as best as you can even in the first draft when you demand much of yourself. Let’s say you wrote “Initial beginning.” Those who advocate writing without revision will counsel you to leave that combination alone to be reworked later, but I say, “Stop right now!” Take the time to follow your inclination and delete “initial” because, of course, all beginnings are “initial.”

Or let’s say for another memoir rewriting example you have written, “Having grown up in another era that was more community-oriented than the one in which I grew up, I envied my grandparents.” You could let that faulty relationship between the introductory phrase and the subject go for a later revision, but I would correct it immediately so that the introductory phrase modifies the subject. Your text would now read: “Having grown up in another era that was more community-oriented than the one in which I grew up, my grandparents had a childhood that I envied.”

For a third memoir-writing example, don’t let yourself write something like “I hated my bedroom with its wallpaper.” Of course, this is grammatically correct but this is not vigorous writing. There is so much unsaid here. Even at this stage, you can do better and explore your thoughts. You can write, “I hated my bedroom. At seven, I had thought my bedroom with its little girl wallpaper full of pink cartoony animals was so cute. Why didn’t my parents accept that, now at seventeen, I should be allowed to repaper my room.”

Better, but I would even delete “little girl” so that “At seven, I had thought my bedroom with its little girl wallpaper full of pink cartoony animals was so cute” would read “At seven, I had thought my bedroom with its wallpaper full of pink cartoony animals was so cute.” Since we know the girl was seven, we do not need “little girl.” We know a girl of “seven” is a “little girl.”

These memoir-writing examples demonstrate that even at the first-draft stage—if you insist on maintaining standards as you write a first memoir draft—you can add or subtract details that make the text more interesting and meaningful.

It’s not an efficient use of your time to procrastinate and say “I’ll do that later. It’s good enough for now.” Write as best as you can in the first draft.

Yes, you can do these corrections later but doing them immediately will bring your text to a higher level of readability while you are still in the imagined time of your memoir. It will result in faster writing over the long run.

Doing this memoir rewriting immediately can bring your text to the 60 to 80% level that is possible in the first draft.

I believe it is important to call into play all that you know about good writing at every stage of your composition.

disappointment

The Third Pillar: Disappointment is always in the background of a first lifestory version.

The poet T.S. Eliot wrote in The Hollow Men: “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act falls the Shadow.”

He meant that what you produce will never be a fit for what you imagined you would produce. The shadow—or your production—always falls short and brings with it disappointment.

Yes, you will likely be disappointed in your memoir text. Let’s look at disappointment as an asset. Disappointment—if you sit thoughtfully with it—can produce many ideas that spur you on to an even better second draft.

Instead of becoming negative about what you wrote and deleting it, ask yourself what you really want to say in this sentence and in that one. Work at the micro level.

Here’s an important question you must ask yourself: “What do I really mean to say here?” This question will change your writing. Each sentence can now be mined for more meaning. The example previously about the little girl wallpaper is an example of what can happen when you ask “What do I really mean to say here?” “Some will say this is second draft work. Good for them—I will not equivocate. Just ask the question!

Always go to “What do I really mean to say here?” This exercise is an effective prompt for clarity and honesty in your writing and it should be repeated frequently as you write your first draft.

Because you asked this question, your lifestory will be clearer in your head. You’ll keep and develop the good stuff, and happily leave out what you now see as less than good.

Just as important, you will read your work with a more critical eye. You’ll find places where you can expand your autobiography to say what you really mean to say and realize your characters can be made more vivid. You will start to notice themes in your work and the way your story connects to something larger than you had originally thought.

While I agree that writing a first draft can be your opportunity to write wildly, feverishly and frantically—as many writing teachers advocate, I urge you to use your investment of time in your first memoir draft well. The better you write at this stage the less rewriting you will have to do later. (Spoiler alert: you will always have the urge to rewrite—even after your book is published!)

Before we move on to pillar #4, let me repeat: As you write pages and pages in which you describe the who, the what, the where and the when of the story, demand of yourself that you write as best as possible. Refer to your Memoir List (I have several YouTube videos on the Memory List which is a listing of everything you remember about the period of your life you are writing about.) The list comes in handy as you flesh out scenes and vignettes. Keep asking “What do I really mean to say here?” for every Memory List item.

Later, as you rework the piece, the why will have become clear. The why often is not entirely evident as you begin to write.

Let’s move on to the fourth pillar.

perfectionism

The Fourth Pillar: Perfectionism is not your friend as you write a first memoir draft.

It is counterproductive to reward yourself for being a perfectionist!

Think of the first draft process of writing as “fixing” the story in the same way that, in days when photographs were fixed by chemicals, that stage was important if the image was not to be lost. Your first draft is the stage when you “fix” your story and keep it from being lost.

The previous three pillars which advocated more careful writing were not at all about perfectionism. Let me be clear: perfectionism is never a virtue at any draft stage if by perfectionism you mean to be mired in a swamp of endless—and ultimately meaningless—alterations. Perfectionism will vitiate your memoir. I’ve seen writers change the word home for house and then back to home.

“I just want my memoir to be perfect,” perfectionists say. What they are doing is just wasting their time and nursing their anxiety. The result of this perfectionism is often stilted prose.

No, as you write a first memoir draft, it is better to keep writing for the best 60-80% “good” volume you are capable of, to get the story into a document and to get the whole sweep of your memoir written. Quantity at this stage has this going for it: it will encourage you to keep writing as you see your pages stack up. You will have a tangible experience of your efforts adding up to something.

When I mention “quantity,” I am not advocating sloppy writing—just the notion that you are involved in a process of writing that, while it will lead inevitably to a revision, the better the first draft is the less work you will have to do later.

Quality should enter big time at every stage—as it must—and it is not to be neglected as you are writing your first memoir draft.

In Conclusion

Over time, you will rework your piece for various stylistic elements and, eventually, you will have a memoir that you are ready to launch into the world, but for now, get your first lifestory draft written—and commit to your first draft being a quality basis for a second draft.

There are many stages in the memoir writing process. Writing your first draft is just one of them. Let it be an early stage—ok, let it be rougher, less complete, even less accurate than you want it to be, but commit to making it as good as you can make it. Go for 60% to 80%.

Here’s my question for you: Will you read your memoir with “What do I really mean to say here?” in mind? Leave a comment below about what you intend to do.

Good luck writing your memoir.

___

To view this post as a video, click here.

4 pillars

Your theme is the soul of your story, the element that elevates it from a recitation of facts to a statement. Don’t take your theme lightly.

Understanding “theme” and its role in your memoir is a core task that will both simplify and clarify your message—i.e., your theme. It calls for your full attention. Your theme is perhaps what has motivated you to start your memoir project. There is likely something you want to say about life—your life.

Your theme is also called your message. The theme can be lofty (striving for virtue will bring rewards) or it can be trite—albeit true— (life is hard). Theme drives what elements you choose to include in your memoir and animates your narrative.

Don’t Let Theme Degenerate Into This!

Everyone writes with some hope of getting a message across. It’s an important message—at least to you.

Here’s the risk you run when you commit to getting a message to the reader: you can slip into “preaching.” Be wary of insisting on the “shouldas, oughtas.” They will sink your memoir into a polemic and cause your audience to flee you—or at the least to resist you.

Reaching for preachiness is not part of these best memoir-writing tasks I am outlining—for a good reason. Who wants to be preached to?

Go for theme—because frankly you can’t avoid it, but eschew preachiness. Preachiness you can avoid!

French Boy

When I wrote my childhood memoir, I was interested in three themes: my ethnic culture, the role of Catholicism in my life and class consciousness. These three recur continually in French Boy.

In conclusion

If you are interested in pursuing this topic a bit further, try these video resources:

~ A BIG WHY will see you to success  

~ Your Memoir Can Be More Consequential

~ Make your Memoir Significant.

~ Upgrade Your Memoir’s Significance: 10 Writing Tips.

Free is a great way to get going, but sometimes mastering a task requires investing in resources that will inform your effort and cut down on the time you’ll need to write your book and produce a better memoir.

turning memories into memoirs

Try our flagship book Turning Memories into Memoirs / A Handbook for Writing Lifestories—in either paperback or ebook versions. It is available this week at a 20% discount. Use the coupon code TMBK20.

In this post, I’m not only going to show you why memoir dialog is important—of course, you know that—but I’m also going to show you some best writing practices to generate memorable and meaningful dialog. You review—or perhaps that’s learn— great tips to write better memoir dialog well so keep reading until the end. I’ve got 7 proven pillars for you to add to your writing toolbox.

While dialog is an interesting and essential part of an effective memoir, do you really know how much to include and when? Or does your writing slip into conversational blah-blah-blah? Ouch!

After reading this post you’ll have seven easy, proven techniques to write better memoir dialog.

Writing Better Memoir Dialog

First off, I’ll offer you some reasons to include dialog in your writing—these are pillars, too—and then I will provide some actionable tips for creating interesting memoir speech that moves your story along.

Dialog performs several functions in making your story interesting and meaningful. Every memoir ought to contain carefully crafted dialog.

Here are some reasons for including dialog in your memoir:

  1. Memoir conversation allows the reader to hear the character speak for himself or herself.

If your character had some defense, for instance, of a behavior, you can include it here.

  • “I know it didn’t look good for me,” my uncle Victor said in his brash voice, “but it wasn’t me who did it.”

It is an opportunity to use regionalisms and particularities of speech.

  • “Ain’t much wrong with it,” my grandfather would say when he was pleased with something.

You can even write in the pauses if that was typical of the person.

  • After asking my grandmother a question I could often hear the faucet dripping or a dog barking outside. I don’t know if she was thinking of her answer or if she was just savoring how astute I was in asking such a question. As I grew older, I learned it was perhaps not the brilliance of my inquiry that had silenced her but her own process and I learned to let there be space in our conversation for her to answer.

Remember to implement this hear-the-character technique.

  1. When you write dialog well, you show rather than tell. Show and not tell is a pillar of all good writing. It permits the writer to put what might otherwise be “tell” elements into the voice of the character rather than that of the author. These elements thus become “show.” When the author presents info, however, it is “tell.” It is not bad for the writer to tell information that is important for the reader to know. I have a video on my YouTube channel on that topic.
  • “I’ve always been an immature person,” John said as he was assessing the disaster of his precipitous actions.

Now compare the previous line with the following:

  • John was an immature person, a really big baby.

In the first statement—a piece of dialog, in which John speaks, we understand that John is speaking for himself and his assessment is probably right. In the second statement, we cannot be sure the author who is saying “John is an immature person” is not really out to engage in a vendetta against John.

Letting a character speak is a great way to provide the reader with an insight the reader can accept. Otherwise, the reader may feel the author is trying to entice the reader to his side against John.

Of course, you have to use dialog that you heard—either verbatim or in a reasonable reconstruction—or have drawn from a letter or a journal. You cannot make things up just to ease your writing task.

This is pillar 2. Now, on to pillar 3.

Writing Better Memoir Dialog

  1. Learning to write dialog well permits you to impart immediacy to the story. Your memoir acquires a “you are there” quality.

“Look at me,” she said. “Look at these hands.”

With these words aren’t we drawn to look at her hands—if only in our mind?

Pillar #3 will place the reader in the timeframe of your story.

  1. Keep memoir conversation short—well, not all the time but a lot of the time

It’s harder to mess up short dialog than it is to mess up long dialog. (At least, the mess up in the memoir conversation is short.) Keep explanations for the narrative.

Here’s an example of terrible lifestory dialog:

“This is my cousin Elizabeth,” she replied, “whose father once had a hardware store on the corner of Huntington and Blake and whose business won best in the state three times in a row, but who finally got sick of hardware and turned to accounting.”

Better dialog (short) followed by an accompanying narrative:

“This is my cousin Elizabeth,” she replied. Eventually, we learned that Elizabeth’s father once had a hardware store on the corner of Huntington and Blake. His business had won best in the state three times in a row, but he finally got sick of hardware and turned to accounting. “He’s so much happier now,” added Elizabeth.

In pillar #4, we see that the words are almost the same but they are not weighed down with the implausibility of a wordy monopoly of a conversation.

  1. Insert feeling and emotion in the memoir dialog.

Again keep analysis or interpretation for the narrative.

“I resent you!’ he snarled. He had been putting up with his brother for a long time, and now that he was no longer living at home, he let his anger fly. We could have written: “I resent you! I had been putting up with you for a long time, and now that I am no longer living at home, I will let my anger fly.”

In pillar #5, you can hear how more heavy the second example sounds in the reader’s ears.

  1. Do not replicate most memoir dialogs from real life into your story. It is not interesting dialog.

Next time you are in a public place, listen to dialog around you. You will easily notice how repetitive, aimless, and meaningless it often is. Much of it just fills the air! Lifestory dialog has to move your memoir along. It cannot be a filler. It cannot be used because “That’s really what was said.”

In the first example below, the dialog doesn’t move the story along. It’s simply imitative of real life and is absolutely true—but boring! In the second, we have a glimpse of the character’s life and so this bit of dialog moves the story along.

Here’s the terrible dialog that imitates life. This is dialog we have all—you, me, everyone—indulged in:

“What will you ladies have today?” the waitress asked Theresa and me.

“What’s the special?” I asked.

“Halibut.”

“Halibut! Oh, I had halibut at my daughter’s the other day. No, I want something else.”

Now here’s some better, because it’s more interesting, dialog:

“What will you ladies have today?” the waitress asked Theresa and me.

“What’s the special?” I asked.

“Halibut.”

“Halibut!” For a moment, I was taken away by a feeling that I could not describe, but then it came to me. I had ordered halibut the day Tom had taken me out to lunch to tell me he was divorcing me.

Of course, you’ve noticed that in the second example, the memoir character—the author—uses a banal exchange to share a huge leap into the psychological realm.

  1. Skip dialog if it doesn’t add anything.

Yes, dialog can give voice to a character, but let’s not make that voice boring. In the restaurant scene above, it would be preferable to skip the dialog with the waitress and just move on to what happened between you and Theresa. If nothing happened, skip the restaurant scene altogether.

Dialog, as every part of your memoir, must serve the theme of your writing. If it doesn’t do so, excise it. As they say, “Kill your little darling!”

Which techniques did you appreciate in today’s post that you think you will use in your writing?

To view this article on video, click here.

If you want exclusive writing guidance that I share with my newsletter subscribers, subscribe today. Join the thousands of writers who have written better memoir thanks to all they have received. It’s free.

Now on to a question for you. Tell me—and the other readers—which one of these techniques are you going to implement first? Is it making your dialog shorter or is it making sure your dialog doesn’t only reproduce actual speech?

Oh, and before you go, I want to be sure to tell you I offer a complimentary get-to-know-you coaching or editing session.

Good luck writing the dialog of your stories! And be sure not to miss any of the learning posts on this blog.

Here is a free e-course I have curated just for you.

~ Dialog: Emotions/Not Information 

~ Write Better Dialog Tags

~ 10 Sure Dialog Hacks

~ Direct or Indirect: Which to Use?

How to structure your memoir is today’s Monday Focus topic. Read on to learn how.

Your story may begin as a formless collection of vignettes and stories. You may be writing as memories come to you. That is not a bad way to start to write. Spontaneity taps into the unconscious.

But, your stories must not remain without an organizing principle. When you structure your memoir, you give it the backbone your readers want and need! Your memoir calls for structure to make as forceful a statement as it can make.

Eventually, after you have written awhile, you will likely have amassed a number of vignettes, story segments, and stories and wonder about how to best organize them into a coherent and interesting memoir. You will likely want to make a statement, to create a bigger picture of your story.

How will you do it? Well, one answer is that you will do it by how you organize your story. Generally, people use chronology, topics, themes, and all of the above.

If you want to write a better memoir, give yourself the gift of the book Organize Your Memoir/Find Your Structure. It will lead you through the process of putting your story together, of making some narrative pull that will structure your memoir. This will keep your readers reading.

For more info on this topic, go to YouTube for:

Today is Monday, and it’s a great day to write a bit on your memoir!

This must-do memoir-writing task asks: how much do you really know and do you have to tell everything you know? That is the challenge of writing the truth.

Memory is often false, flattering, and failing. This makes telling the truth harder than it might have seemed firsthand.

~ You may never have known the truth. From the get-go, you may have been guessing. Guessing is sometimes necessary and has its rightful place in memoir writing but guess as little as possible and as a last resort.

~ You may want to nurture the truth so as to come out looking better. Ego can get in the way of telling the truth. If understanding your life is a goal, ego has to get out of the way. Without truth, there can be little understanding.

~ You may have once known the truth, but it has all come to be a bit vague at this point. Memories grow less vivid over time. This state of failing memory is rife with slipping into flattering the ego.

The search for the truth is important because truth underlies how we interpret of our lives. If “the truth shall set you free” has any meaning, it is that, once you know the truth of your life, you can understand your past. In some way, truth makes sense of where you have ended up and opens up understanding of so many other decisions, directions, and developments.

Here is another important question: do you always have to tell all the truth? My answer is no—but don’t tell a lie.

An example of when telling the truth ought to be avoided would be if you were a gay man living in Uganda where being a homosexual has dire consequences including being put to death. It would be foolish—and perhaps fatal—for a gay memoir writer in Uganda to admit publicly to being homosexual.

There are many less dramatic examples to help you evaluate whether or not to withhold the truth about something. Sometimes withholding invalidates the theme of your memoir, and sometimes it does not.

To view a video from Denis on Telling the Difficult Truth, click here

Today, I am urging you to sit back and enjoy this virtual memoir tour in which I read an excerpt read from my memoir French Boy/A 1950s Franco-American Childhood.

Here’s some necessary background: I did not learn English until I went to grade school. My brother had preceded me in school where he had learned to speak English.

While this excerpt can be thought of as a cute story, I included it in my memoir because it supports the necessity of bilingual education. This sound pedagogy is too often under attack! My own life was greatly impacted by the thoughtful bilingual education I received.

Enough preamble: You have a choice of going to YouTube to listen to the reading on the virtual memoir tour or you can read the text of the video below.

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The night before starting first grade, because Billy was one of the “big boys” who was going into the second grade, I asked him the big question on my mind. I needed an answer.

“What happens at school if you can’t speak English?”

“The sisters hit you,” he answered from the other half of our double bed, “if you don’t speak English to them.”

I began to howl and scream. Soon my mother was next to us, asking what the matter was, and I told her what Billy had said. “Is that true?”

“Your father and I would not send you to a school where you will be punished for not speaking English.”

She then said to my brother, “If you tell him things like that again, it’s you who will be punished.” After she left the bedroom, I could hear her telling my father I had been crying.

Our room was dark. From his half of the bed, my brother whispered, “She had to tell you that because she’s mama, but it’s not true.”

The next day, with great apprehension, I set out for the unknown. My father, who had driven us to the school in the truck, admonished Billy to look after me. (At that point, how confident could I be about my “protector!”) After we had exited the truck cab, the two of us walked up the schoolyard and climbed the steps to the porch. On either side of the entrance door, there was a bench and, to the right and to the left of these, were groupings of four windows for each of the four classrooms. I sat on the bench at the side on which the door opened. From inside, I heard footsteps approaching. Someone was coming towards us. I leaned against the wall of the school to make myself small. By the time I heard the door bar being pushed down to open the door, I was in full terror mode.

A young nun stuck her head out the door, and looking directly at me, she said, “Bonjour, petit garçon.”

In the next couple of years, I learned to speak English in a smooth and painless manner.

Here is this week’s FREE video e-course which I have prepared especially for you.

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To link to the video of me reading this story, click HERE.

And remember: “inch by inch, it’s a cinch; yard by yard it’s hard.”

Good luck writing your stories!

Today’s focus reminds you that your stories take place in some context. This is the setting of your story.

There are two general sorts of settings.

  • the physical setting that is tangible
  • the abstract setting that consists of family, culture, and the era, etc. This setting tends to be ethereal.

Some of the writers I have worked with failed to appreciate that they grew up in a setting that is different from the one in which other people may have been raised. Perhaps you grew up in a suburb and feel that there is nothing to say about that as everyone knows about what the suburbs are like, but if your reader grew up on a mountain farm, your setting will prove to be somewhat—or quite—foreign. Of course, suburbs themselves can vary greatly.

Tell us about your setting: better yet, show us. We need to smell the food cooking in the kitchen, see the view out of the window, and walk or ride to school with you.

You get the idea!

Setting can also include religion, language used at home, socio-economic status, etc. Your setting is essentially everything and anything that is part of the background of the people in your memoir.

Obviously, some settings are very important while other settings are not. For instance, we do not need a floor plan of the house you grew up in. More important might be what the furniture or the appliances tell us about your people—their socio-economic status, their taste, their willingness to live with second-rate things, or their insistence on top quality.

As a memoirist, you are tasked with describing the different settings so that your reader can “see” where your story takes place and can understand your characters more fully via the settings.

Good luck writing your memoir.

DL: this post—Three Pillars of Starting a Memoir Right—introduced a YouTube video which turned out to be the most popular of all my videos. Today, I would like to share both this post and the video. If you haven’t done so already, please share the post and the video and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

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Writing a memoir requires a lot of time and energy—but you can do it. You can succeed in writing a memoir. Many people just like you have succeeded in doing so already. Today I am offering you my three pillars of memoir writing.

I want to share a system with you for getting started on writing a memoir. I call it the three pillars of memoir writing.

As with so many projects you might undertake, you can reinvent the wheel or you can plug into a system that has been shown to work. My Memoir Network has been helping people just like you to write personal and family stories since 1988 and our proven system can help you, too, to write a memoir.

The system that I have found to be best for launching new writers—and many practiced writers, too—has three parts to it—three pillars of memoir writing.

1. When writing a memoir, create a memory list. It’s a strong part of the pillars of starting a memoir right

(more…)

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Today, I am urging you to sit back and enjoy this virtual memoir tour in which I read an excerpt read from my memoir French Boy/A 1950s Franco-American Childhood. Here’s some necessary background: I did not learn English until I went to grade school. My brother had preceded me in school where he had learned […]

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DL: this post—Three Pillars of Starting a Memoir Right—introduced a YouTube video which turned out to be the most popular of all my videos. Today, I would like to share both this post and the video. If you haven’t done so already, please share the post and the video and subscribe to my YouTube channel. […]