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How to Write a Significant Memoir

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DL: This is a piece about how to write a significant memoir I published on the LinkedIn blog Pulse. It addresses a major challenge many writer face—at least writers who want to have an audience beyond family and friends.

That our memoir is insignificant is about the last thing we memoir writers ever want to read about our magnum opus. How do we write a significant memoir?

What separates a significant memoir from an insignificant one?

Family myths figures prominently in a memoir.

A memoir tells the story of a hero’s journey.

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not fame, it’s not the scope of the arena of the action. The key to significance lies elsewhere.

When memoir writers set out to record the facts and the dates of their lives, they are doing first-draft work. We’ve all read reviews of memoirs—and possibly read the memoirs themselves—that bemoan how the famous memoirist has not given anything away. The writer has regurgitated info that could be found in newspaper and magazine articles of the time. Other than “I was happy that…” there is little insight to be found.

The reader is likely to find this memoir insignificant.

The more famous and well-known or high achieving the memoirist may have been, the more this may be one of the writing challenges: to go beyond thinking that the facts and circumstances are in themselves significant enough to carry a reader through several hundred pages. (How much more so when the writer is not well known!)

What makes a memoir have significance to the reader?

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2 Responses to How to Write a Significant Memoir

  1. Avatar
    Bob LaRue March 9, 2019 at 10:06 PM #

    Thanks Denís,
    This post really rings my bell. When writing dialogue from 50 years ago, how much “creativity “ should a memoir writer allow oneself? I, for one, can’t remember it all word for word. On the other hand, digging into human interaction without dialogue seems impossible. At some point, I need to quit taking about it and just say it!

  2. Avatar
    Denis Ledoux March 10, 2019 at 12:11 PM #

    I admit it is usually difficult to create dialog for a story that occurred years ago, but dialog in some form can give a story more energy. Here are some of my best suggestions:

    1. Use indirect dialog: “Alice said that I should go.”
    2. Use a micro-quote, ” ‘Yes,’ Alice said urging me to go.”
    3. Make up a quote that you tell the reader is made up: Alice, who was always supportive,

      would have said something like

    , “Yes, you ought to go and see what you can do to make a better future for yourself.”

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