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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

10 Tips for Writing Memoir

You have a unique story that only you can tell. And the way that you tell it matters. Even the world’s best story—winning the World Cup, walking on the moon, dipping into death and returning to life—needs to be told well

Here are a few ideas to help you write your story in the most compelling way.

1. Offer a Unique Angle

Your story—a difficult childhood, your cancer journey or disillusionment with church—must have a unique angle, or slant. This fresh angle needs to grab the reader. How is yours unique?

2. Meet a Felt Need

Your memoir needs to meet the reader's felt need. To keep the reader turning pages, there must be something in it for her/him. What's the benefit for the reader?

3. Ignore your internal critic.

Silence the inner voice saying you’re doing it wrong or should probably just stop and make a sandwich. Write now; edit later.

4. Tell the truth.

Notice your own resistance to truth-telling. Being bullied by an instinct to protect, yourself or others, deprives readers—and you!—of the surprising gifts truth brings forth.

5. Develop a clear theme.

Are you after adventure?  Hunting for healing?  Identifying your fundamental theme, or “red thread,” allows you to skim off extraneous material in the editing stage.

6. Exercise chronological creativity.

Sometimes telling your story from conception to the present moment works. Be open, though, to the ways a reordered narrative might serve the story.

7. Employ dialogue.

Dialogue lubricates the flow of the narrative.  It gives the reader critical insight into characters without telling the reader about them. 

8. Show transformation.

Throughout the book, the reader should be able to see the main character change, grow, transform. Have you done this?

9. Avoid painting yourself as the victim or the hero.

Abigail Thomas writes, “Memoir should never be self-serving, even accidentally.” Avoid “poor little me” and “good little me.”  Jeanette Wall’s Glass Castle does this beautifully.

10. Read memoir. But be you.

Notice when memoir makes your heart soar (or sore) and when you want to set the book down to take out the trash. Don’t try to sound like Anne Lamott. Be you. It’s better that way.

Cheering you on,

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