Writing a memoir about your life

Autobiographies and memoirs are often individual, full-fledged literary works, so they constitute a special genre. Autobiographical literature is based on the personality of its author, who tries to portray his life and his reflections with the help of an artistic form.

Memoirs are memories of the past, which are created on the basis of the author’s life experience. In this case, the author narrates about his life and about what he went through because of certain political and historical changes, and for this he uses letters, diaries, and various documentation.

The main difference between the autobiography and memoirs is that autobiographical literature is devoted solely to the author’s personality and what is connected with it, and memoir literature can tell about important historical epochs and events and show them through the eyes of one or several people.

Memoirs are used both for ideological and political struggle. And despite the fact that memoirs often become historical sources, many authors resort to distorting the truth in view of their personal ideological notions.

The historical significance of memoirs lies in the fact that the author, revealing his life, reveals the picture of life of that period, political events, its cultural component, everyday life, and customs of people of different estate

If you decided to write down your own memoirs, but do not know where to start, then this article is just for you. These tips on writing a memoir will help direct you in the right way.

Where to begin writing memoirs

Firstly, it should be understood that memoirs are not an autobiography in which the narrative begins from the very birth and sequentially passes through the whole calendar of life. In memoirs this sequence is not an axiom, although some ordering is undoubtedly necessary. You can just take some meaningful piece of your life and build your memoirs on it.

Many turn to their childhood as the most mysterious and interesting topic for memoirs. The difficulty is that very few people remember their own childhood in such detail that it would be possible to write about this at least a couple of pages of text. But it only seems so. In fact, you just did not remember it for a long time. It is worth starting and you can be captured by such a powerful wave of memories that you’ll be able to write for several notebooks. To help you remember situations from your childhood, you can use the following:
  • Family photo albums
  • Old letters
  • Diaries
  • Music and video recordings
  • The stories of your relatives

Also, use the internet. You can find here a lot of useful reminders about the past. For example, now there are many forums and social networks where you can find your friends posting photos from the past that can evoke nostalgic memories in you.

You can also research for toys of that time, industrial goods, food, and many other things. Looking through these materials, you can suddenly recall that this is exactly the toy you played with in your childhood, and some things can push you to remember long-forgotten memories that you would have not remembered otherwise. Such things can be a great base when writing a memoir.

Secondly, it is very useful for an example to read already published memoirs. Find Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, or In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, or My Early Life by Winston Churchill. You should not be embarrassed that they were great writers and you were not very good in writing at school. It is not necessary to become one of the great. But they have something you can learn from. Yes, even just to be inspired.

Thirdly, you should find some key, very significant moment in your past, from which you can go on a journey through the waves of memory. Start remembering it in all possible detail and writing it down in a draft. Perhaps, in doing so, you will begin to recall earlier events, also very significant for you. Write them down, too. You can draw a mind map, taking this key event as a basis. This is a very good help, which can serve as a kind of plan for writing the subsequent detailed text.

You have the beginning, what’s next?

Suppose you have found the right key moment in your life and started writing a memoir, even if it’s still rather confused. How to make it so that all of this was more or less like a book, rather than a collection of rambling passages that would be of no interest to anyone but you. In any fiction, there must be a story. It is the plot that interests the reader and stimulates his interest in further reading. There is no plot – there is no interest.

In the case of memoirs, everything is exactly the same. You will need to link all your memories into a related story. The difficulty here is that at the very beginning of writing, this story is not always visible even to you. You simply write down your memories, not knowing in advance what else will emerge in your memory. Therefore, building a storyline in memoirs makes sense from around the middle of the narrative or even at the very end, when you yourself will come to certain conclusions and results. Perhaps you will even want to rewrite everything by shuffling memories and arranging them in a completely different order.

Of course, in your narrative, there must be some bright, anchor events, conflicts that you either managed to resolve, or they left a noticeable imprint in your life. These fuel the interest of the reader. If everything is recorded accurately, without any outbursts of emotional waves, then it will be unbearably boring to read it even to you. So, do not be short on emotions and do not hesitate to describe them in all colors. After all, you are writing a book of your life. Let it be bright and memorable.

As in any successful case, there should be a certain methodical nature when writing a memoir. If you are enthusiastically in one evening remembered something and quickly recorded it, and then abandoned the writing for a month or two, then you are guaranteed to have to start all over again. It will be very difficult to start from the same place where you left off the last time. Therefore, it is better to write at least a little, but every day, or a day or two, but do not give up for a long time this activity.

Many people can dodge the idea of creating memoirs by the fact that it is necessary to allocate time for remembering and subsequent recording, but the time is already lacking. Take an example from the famous writer Julia Cameron. She often writes in snatches, when in the daily life she has a free minute or two. You can do your daily things and at the same time remember something from your past, making short notes in a notebook, in a smartphone or laptop, or just on paper napkins or on any scrap of paper. For this, there is no need at all to allocate any special time, to be locked in a room with a table and a lamp.

What you can write in memoirs

You can write the truth. Memoirs are not artistic fiction. First of all, this is a true description of the events that took place in the past, and the author’s reflections on these very events, his attitude towards them, his emotions, thoughts, and conclusions. Moreover, the truth means that you will not describe yourself only from the positive side, but you will tell without any concealment about your negative qualities and habits. Life consists not only of success, but also of failures. When you talk about them, you inspire confidence in the reader.

Avoid passive constructions and clericalisms

Do not use passive constructions and clericalisms in the text. It’s just very boring.

  • Passive constructions are an official style that looks like bureaucracy. Examples of passive constructions: tasks were performed, problems were solved, work was done, etc. Instead, use active constructions: I accomplished the task, we solved the problem, I did this job, etc.
  • Clericalisms are words and speech constructions that also come from the official style of business papers. These are: there is a place to be, was in a state, which, this, called, is due, according to, in the case, in connection with, because, despite the fact that, due to the fact that, etc. Use as few as possible complex words, word-definitions, very long words or very rare words (obsolete). Perhaps you will find this an adornment of the text, but the reader will not understand this, or think that you just show off.

Describe the events in a specific environment that are not suspended in uncertainties. If this event took place in a cafe, give a brief but exhaustive description of the decoration of this cafe and its visitors. It will immerse the reader in a concrete environment, will give an impression of the atmosphere of this space.

Use sensual descriptions, and not just: an oak table, a red lamp, a full waiter, etc. Instead, write: rough surface of oak countertops, soft and mysterious light of an old red lamp, fat and clumsy waiter in a filthy wrinkled apron who smelled like sour soup.

The reader must experience all this himself. Therefore, use more words describing specific sensations:
  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Tactile
  • Smell
  • Taste

In addition, the use of metaphors, quotes, dialogues, and other writing decorations is entirely acceptable and even welcomed when writing a memoir, if only they are appropriate and fit into the general outline of the narrative. They not only diversify your text, but also add something that readers always like.

How to finish memoirs

Any good and interesting story has a beginning and an end. Your memoirs, too. They cannot be stopped half way and left without the ending. Perhaps you will not be able to make some vital conclusions yourself, but the story must be brought to its logical conclusion. If the story is still going on, then your memoirs are not finished yet and will eventually be supplemented with new materials.

When you finish writing, reread everything from beginning to end and get rid of unnecessary things along the way. This means that you need to throw out all that is superfluous, not essential, or too flamboyant and detailed from the text. If these florid details do not reveal the essence of the matter, then they clearly should not be in your work.

It is very easy to check if the text has useless information: read the sentence, if you see a dubious word in it, delete it and check if the meaning and essence of the sentence is not lost. If not, the word was really superfluous. Similarly, check the paragraph of the text. If any sentence is superfluous, then remove it. Do the same with the paragraphs, ruthlessly removing them from the text.

After all these heroic efforts, you have to make no less heroic step – give your memoirs to your closest friends and relatives whom you trust. Thereby you pursue two tasks:
  • Check how interesting and informative your story is
  • Check how well the information is presented

The second point may lead to the fact that you want to supplement your memoirs with the information that your first readers will give you. Perhaps you yourself could not remember something but it turned out to be significant. You may have made a mistake in your memories, and your friends can help you fix it. In any case, feedback is needed. So, do not hesitate to ask people to read your texts and give this feedback.

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