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Write a memoir: practical how-to information to ace it.

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As you write a memoir, you will find that you need much more information about technique or about style or about research or any number of other topics. Unless you have been writing much over the years, this is likely to be you. Going to the library for information is a necessary next step for […]

Over the years, I have both worked with people to help them write a memoir and have heard from people who have done the work of writing theirs.

Often these people had never written anything before—not memoir, not fiction, not creative non-fiction. They did not think of themselves as writers. One day these people—as you are now doing—decided it was time to write a memoir. They set about to compose a lasting record of their personal and family stories in writing.

I admire their efforts very much. Starting something new, something that we have never done before, is almost always a demanding, challenging task. I can think of things that I have done that have been in this vein.

An example of learning something new and mastering it.

What follows seems to depart for the idea of “how to write a memoir,” but bear with me. It is germaine!

One day, in our fifties, Martha and I decided that we would learn social dance. It took us a number of years to become fairly good. We started with dance classes at the local high school and took about six of these semesters in all.

Out of these dance classes, there formed a group of “dance buddies” who would go out together dancing. We would be in touch with each other to say, “There is a dance at such-and-such a place. Let’s go.” We would gather at that dance, sit together, dance together, and just generally enjoy ourselves. I look back on those years with much pleasure.

In addition to classes and going to dances to “practice,” we would sometimes look at dance demonstrations on YouTube. Specifically, I was looking to improve certain movements, to learn a different way of doing something or just to pick up a new move. This is often called deliberate practice.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed are kings!”

Over the years, Martha and I did become “sort of” proficient dancers. Now we always thought of ourselves as beginning dancers, but obviously we must have looked good to people. We would sometimes even be asked if we were professional dancers. We did not let this go to our heads but we were gratified to realize that what we enjoyed so much was also something that gave pleasure to others looking at us.

Back to “write a memoir”

Writing a memoir turns out to be something like this. As you articulate the desire to write a memoir, you can begin on your own, but very frequently, your work is sped up by having some instruction. So, you seek coaching or editing or you attend a class or a tele-class or you procure materials: books, ebooks, MP3s.

Along the way, you may be elated about all you are learning, but there are likely to be many moments when you will feel discouraged and be willing to give up. At these times, the equivalent of our dance buddies will be the support you align for yourself. These may be the people who are in touch with you and encourage you to stay in the memoir conversation. Or they may be support materials you will have gathered for yourself.

We call it “Stay in the Memoir Conversation.”

You have made a effective decision to become a member of The Memoir Network’s My Memoir Education. In its newsletters, blog posts, forum, you will find ideas and practices that will teach you much and support you emotionally. In My Memoir Education you will find encouragement to continue writing.

Before you write a memoir, go to the library.

I have read much of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who studied the Alchemists, those pseudo-scientists of the Middle Ages who believed it was possible to change “baser elements” into gold. When they wanted to do a new experiment, hoping that this was the one that would transform the baser elements into gold, the first thing they did was to go to the library. Why go to the library? Well, they wanted to find out what has already been done, where the shortcuts have already been mapped out for you on your way to your goal. And so should you.

As you write a memoir, you will find that you need much more information about technique or about style or about research or any number of other topics. Unless you have been writing much over the years, this is likely to be you. Going to the library (or bookstore) is a necessary next step for you.

How to initiate the process to write a memoir?

We hope that you will start your library search with Memoir Network materials. We had a very comprehensive Memoir Start Up Package which includes the digital version of the book Turning Memories Into Memoirs / A Handbook for Writing Lifestories, the e-version of the of the Memory Binder, MP3s of Turning Memories Into Memoirs / A Handbook for Writing Lifestories, many other MP3s, ecourses, guides and other e-books.

The whole package separately sells for $139.95 but it is available to you as a package in the memoir bookshop for $79—all electronic—or $99— with the hardcopy of Turning Memories Into Memoirs / A Handbook for Writing Lifestories. (If you use the code “library,” you will receive an additional $10 off. Do so now as the code is up only for a limited time.)

Give yourself a break: “go to the library,” procure for yourself the Memoir Start Up Package. It will save you time, and at the special price, it will save you money.

I’m so pleased you are part of our writing community.


What is deliberate practice you mention in the article?

Deliberate practice consists of choosing an element you need improvement on and then thoughtfully and conscientiously going about consistently over a period until you have mastered the element.

How do I know which element in my memoir writing needs improvement?

Good question, often you don’t know because “you don’t know!” That is why we recommend working with a coach or an editor who can quickly and expertly steer you in the right direction.

Other than with coach or editor are there other ways to do deliberate practice?

You can get a writing buddy, join a writing group, read how-to materials on writing.

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