While family and friends are a worthy readership for your memoir, it is possible to write for a larger audience.
Many memoir writers I have worked with will admit, if pushed, that they would enjoy a larger audience. I believe it is a pleasure for most writers to discover that the words they have written appeal to strangers and may even move them to action.
Here are four suggestions to enable your story to appeal to a broader public.
1) Write a story that is truly well-written and whose reading—the prose itself—will bring joy to your reader.
You will need to achieve clarity, coherence, conciseness, completeness, and much more. If you enjoy playing with language and have an ear for it, you can succeed at creating a well-written memoir that will bring pleasure to its readers.
This is not to say that you ought to fictionalize your memoir. At the Memoir Network we are very much against making things up in your memoir.
1. Print your story out as for most people that changes your experience of the text. A printed story is somehow more public. Go ahead and give printing a try.
2. Read your story out loud to yourself but preferably to someone else. Note how your story sounds. Experience the flow of your language. Reading aloud will make you more objective about your writing.
3. Keep a pencil or pen handy and make notes of proposed alterations to the wording and style. Keep your ego out of the way and let yourself experience hearing your story as a sympathetic listener. Would you enjoy telling the writer how you appreciate the memoir excerpt or would you have to “make nice” when asked what you think?
2) Find what is truly unique about your story and explore that thread.
Perhaps you were experimented on with drugs by the CIA or perhaps you were a prisoner of war or perhaps you have given birth to sextuplets. People love to read about a personal experience that is different and unique. And… it is highly probable that you have done something in your life that is unique–even if it is only during a small portion of your life. Perhaps there was a time when you tried to reconcile a liberal political view with a conservative religious group or perhaps you were afflicted with a malady that vanished when you took a special cure.
It may take you time to identify what you have experienced that was unique, but be patient with yourself. Linger with your story a while and your uniqueness will come to you. Remember that the uniqueness does not have to appeal to the masses—a niche will do even if you want to write for strangers.
3) Set your story in a historical context if you want to write for a larger audience.
Perhaps you were the first person to do something in your group or community—the first man to graduate from a hitherto all-women’s college. Perhaps you were in the Vietnam War and you wish to write a memoir from the point of view of an ordinary soldier or perhaps you were a pacifist who opposed the war. Perhaps you were among the first women to become a financial advisor in your state and want to write about the dissolution of gender barriers in banking. Perhaps you were housemaid to the Kennedys and have stories to tell about national figures who frequented the house where you worked. Perhaps you have a story to tell about what it was like to be a newly arrived Muslim living in North America.
To succeed at setting your story in a larger historical context, you will obviously have to learn about the historical context and be able to write about it with ease. Not only as it affected you but about the “bigger picture” that gives context to your individual experience. Begin by reading about the historical context and from that may come how your story can be placed.
1. Make a Memory List of all the differentiating elements of your life—or the particular experience you are writing about—and explore the relationship with the more common experience.
2. Explain your life in function of the differentiating experience but make references to the common experience.
4) Find the psychological/spiritual/cultural drama in your story.
It often happens that writers can write about the psychological or spiritual unfolding of their personality and, in doing so, write about the “universal,” the typical or normative unfolding and development of a personality or of the soul. This treatment of your memoir sets your life experience as a possible model. An example would be how you became an artist or how you have had an experience of enlightenment or how you rose from rags to riches.
The value of a memoir is measured by the inherent value to the writer and to its selected audience pursuing the same sort of life. If you want to write for a larger audience, it is important to position your story.
1. What segment of the population will be interested in your memoir? Why will they be interested? That is, what will they learn or what will they identify with?
2. How can your story serve as a model for how your readers might think about their lives or how they might live their lives?
These four memoir tips will make it possible to go about making an otherwise ordinary life into a story that can appeal to a larger audience. To do so, you will need to think about how to write for a larger audience.
It is in the rewriting stage, as you struggle with the story that is trying both to remain hidden and to come out, that you will most likely achieve the insights that will appeal to a broader readership. So… keep writing. It is possible for you to produce a story that is not only worth your time to write but also worth someone else’s time to read.