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writing a better memoir

Four Tips for Writing a Better Memoir

Writing a better memoir become easier when you make use of the core memory list. The extended memory list does not make value judgments about the quality of your memories. The core memory list, however, distinguishes between two sorts of memories—the important from the unimportant—that appear on your extended list. As you write more, you’ll find yourself producing more memories. Some of these are important to you, others are not.

Distinguishing between the two is crucial to writing a better memoir and is what a core memory list will facilitate for you.

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 1) Core memory lists contain only those items or highlights on your extended list which are most important to you.

These are the events, relationships, feelings without which you would not be today who you are. The core memory list is much shorter than the extended memory list. If you are truly writing a better memoir, you will be sure to include your core memories.

For me, the core list of my high school years was limited to:

  • my relationship with my teachers.
  • friendships.
  • my evolving attachment to some of my studies.
  • the role of religion in my life.

At this point in the process, I’m still in the pre-writing stage. I’m getting the material for my stories organized so that, when I sit down to write, the writing will come easily. In addition, I have selected the most important of my life experiences to write about.

The point at this early stage of lifewriting is to begin the process of understanding what is happening, or has happened, in your life. As you try to understand, and eventually to achieve writing a better memoir, one that truly includes the broader picture, you will find this work of paring down your long, extended memory list into a core list to be very valuable in creating a focus.

2) A core memory list serves as a detailed guide to help you start writing a better memoir.

It will be especially important to you as you initiate lifewriting because, when you sit to write and stare at a blank page (or screen), your memory list—both the extended and the core memory lists—will suggest to you what to write about.

3) Core memory lists assure that you are undertaking your most important stories first.

If, for whatever reason, you do not finish writing all your stories, you will not be left with a number of insignificant ones instead of the pivotal ones you had intended to record. Once you have preserved the highlight experiences of your life, then you can turn to writing the others. In this way, you will succeed at writing a better memoir with less risk of losing some of your stories.

4) Not only will your core memory list suggest something to write about, but it will also help you to fill out each of your stories.

When you cluster memories under core headings, you easily know such details as who was there, what the place looked like, what was going on in your life before and after the memory list item, etc.

Essentially, because you’ve done extensive pre-writing, you will find that the actual writing is a breeze. In no time, you will write a better memoir.

 Remember: “Yard by yard, it’s hard. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch!”

Action Steps for Better Memoir Writing

  1. In writing a better memoir, when compiling your core memory list, select no more than ten items from your extended, clustered memory list. Ten is numerous enough to make this list satisfying. It is also small enough to force you to make decisions about the importance of each item.
  2. Place your core memory list immediately after your extended memory list in your three-ring Memory Binder. This is how you can learn to write a better memoir.

Have you had experience using the concept of the core memory list (even if you called it by another name)? I think core lists re especially crucial when you are writing about an older person who may not have time to share an entire life. Your thoughts below?

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