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memoir pre-writing

Three Tips for Effective Memoir Pre-Writing

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Before you begin to write your memoir, there are a number of non-writing tasks which you must undertake—this phase of compiling your lifestory is called memoir pre-writing, and it is essential to writing better stories. Pre-writing can include…

Before you begin to write your memoir, there are a number of non-writing tasks which you must undertake—this phase of compiling your lifestory is called memoir pre-writing, and it is essential to writing better stories. People often think of pre-writing as a waste of time, but it is not. It will get your stories written more quickly and more interestingly.

1. Effective Pre-writing can include:

  • list making.
  • rereading letters, journal entries, newspaper clippings.
  • talking to people and reminiscing.
  • doing any of the numerous writing exercises in offered in the Memoir Writer’s blog or in our flagship book Turning Memories Into Memoir to stimulate your memory and keep your interest high.

Effective memoir pre-writing can actually occur at several points in the lifewriting process: at the very start of the memoir writing task, as an effective warm-up, whenever you pick up your writing after an absence from writing.

2. Don’t start writing until you have done pre-writing.

Pre-writing generates memories to write about. Making a list of memories and emotions associated with those memories provides a convenient list of story topics. This is called a Memory List. In this way pre-writing actually speeds up the writing process.

3. Let the memoir pre-writing dictate where you will start writing a lifestory.

Pre-writing often reveals a point at which you will feel most comfortable starting. This is your entry point, the point at which you simply must begin to write. That point can be a setting, a dialogue, or an action. Paying attention to what you most feel compelled to write will prove to be not only the most enjoyable way to proceed but also the most effective.

Resist the urge to start writing from what seems like the beginning of your story. Instead simply start writing from the point that most commands your attention.

Denis Ledoux

4. Change the document with every new topic and name by topic.

Filling a document with words is often the hardest part of writing—so give yourself a break. As you start writing, it is easier to fill a short document (or a half sheet of paper) with writing than to write pages and pages of a document! It is easier to focus on one document page than on multiple pages. This is especially useful when you find yourself warming up to your topic.

5. Go for regularity and volume

Write whatever comes to mind–without deciding how any of this will all come together. At this stage, it is more important to write regularly and voluminously than to write well (that will come later). On top of each document page, write the name of your writing topic as your title. (Your topic should come from your Memory List.)

Your memoir pre-writing goal now is to produce volume. Do not be concerned with whether or not you are writing well or how your final draft will shape up, nor what the beginning scene of your story will be.

You will organize later what you have written: shuffle the writing into a more appropriate order than they were written in; decide that the material on Page 4 belongs before that on Page 1 and that the piece about the picnic belongs after the piece about the conversation with your father. As you order your material, you may realize that you already have written something that can serve as a beginning or that you clearly don’t have a good beginning yet.

Eventually, you will write a memoir that everyone in your natural audience will want to read!

Good luck with memoir pre-writing!

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