When it comes to memoirs, most people tend to think that it is a prerogative of celebrities, retired politicians, and other renowned people to write them, as if there can be nothing remarkable about the life of an average person. However, if you think about it thoroughly, you will realize that it is not true. Every person’s life is incredible in its own way. We tend to ignore this fact, often believing that whatever happened to us occurred in the only way possible, whereas in reality it is not true. What is mundane and routine to one person can be outstanding to another.
Considering this, it is understandable that so many people decide, at some point in their lives, to write a memoir. Working on this kind of writing is often an attempt to take a look at one’s life path, to contemplate all the lessons learned the hard way, to reminisce and revalue one’s accomplishments and misfortunes. A memoir can be a way to sort one’s life out and to distinguish what is important from what is not. You can think of it as a diary, only written post-factum, and regarding the events of a relatively long period of time.
So, what exactly is a memoir? A memoir is a literary genre that focuses on events of an author’s personal life, about people he or she met, things that happened, life lessons learned, and so on. In a memoir, one analyzes his or her life experiences. It is important to remember though that unlike a biography, memoirs do not cover one’s entire life, but certain periods of it; rather, it is particular milestones, significant periods that are worth describing.
When writing a memoir, the first thing you should keep in mind is what you are doing it for. If you want to “write something for the sake of writing,” then your idea is probably short-lived: after a dozen pages, you will probably start delaying your writing for more and more prolonged periods of time, unless you abandon your memoir completely. However, if you have a certain goal, it might be easier for you to write from the beginning until the end. The goal may vary: sharing what you have learned or known; reliving a certain life event or trying to cope with it (a form of therapeutic writing); disclosing a mystery; leaving a legacy so you would not be forgotten, and so on. Whatever the goal is, setting and pursuing it can make writing a memoir much easier.
Depending on the goal, the list of memorable events of your life demanding description in your memoirs will vary as well. What you need to do is to select those of them that will bring you closer to achieving your goal. If you cannot think of anything worthwhile, you can refer to the decisions you made, thoughts you had, and so on—a memoir is not necessarily about documenting the events of your life, but rather about showing who you are.
After you have decided on what you are going to write about, it is important to figure out who will appear in your memoirs. Since it is real life that you are going to write about, all the people present in your memoir will be real as well. And here is one problem: not everyone is happy about being described in someone’s writing. In fact, a memoir is especially sensitive to the honesty of what is written: if you sugar-coat or hush up anything, then what is the point in writing a memoir? Respectively, when writing about people, you will have to describe them as they are, or close to who they are. Considering this, it is important that you consult with those whom you are going to write about. Inform them about your intentions, and ask them for their permission to be depicted. Usually, it is enough to change names in order to protect someone’s privacy, although in some cases you will also have to avoid mentioning certain biographical facts, personality traits, or events. Yes, a memoir is about writing the truth, but when it comes to the privacy of other people, it is also about compromise between the truth and their rights and dignity.
After all the arrangements are made, research conducted, and formalities set, it is time to start writing. First of all, you will need an outline—a rough draft or roadmap of your future memoir. An outline is not something finalized, so you can change it during the course of writing—but for starters, you need something to begin with. A rough outline may look like this:
– Introduction (who I am, some biographical facts, why I am writing this)
– Transition to Event 1 (the background and premise of what happened and what you want to describe)
– Event 1 (what happened, who was involved, what were the outcomes)
– Your reflection of Event 1
– Transition to Event 2
and so on. Of course, this is a crude and approximate outline, but it can still be helpful.
When you write your memoir, it is essential for you to remember that you do not edit it during the process of writing. No matter how bad the temptation to edit is, leave this side of the writing process for when you are done with writing. Otherwise, you will never finish your memoir, or it will end up heavily edited, and closer to fiction than to real-life events. So, when you are done with writing, turn yourself into a reader, and read through the whole thing, paying attention to discrepancies, logical inconsistencies, writing style, grammar, etc. And do not expect yourself to write perfectly from scratch: even the best writers have to edit their writing multiple times before it starts to shine.
When you are done, it is up to you whether you want to publish your work or not. Sometimes, memoirs can become bestsellers; sometimes, they are of interest to no one else but the direct participants of certain events, or your family members, or friends. Anyways, first of all you should write for yourself, and achieve your own goals. If it resonates with someone else, good. But if not, do not worry. Writing a memoir is a big deal, since you are leaving your footprint in history. And who knows what pathfinder is going to find it, and when.