Yet it had better be more than this for the work to stand a chance of publication. You must render scenes from memory, recreating dialogue, reimagining yourself in the past, and recalling every sensory detail you experienced in any given moment. They are more an expression of your life through something.
That something Goldberg mentions provides a much-needed focus that is essential in any work of literature. So what makes a great memoir, as memoirists themselves see it? What are some essentials in writing the form well? And what do those in the publishing world consider a salable memoir? We spoke to leading memoirists, agents, and publishers to find out.
Write the best book you can, the book that you long to pull down from a shelf and read. Assuming you long to read it, others — including agents and editors — will feel likewise. Writing to the market is an artistic mistake, and probably a commercial one as well. Tell a story that only you can tell as only you can tell it. It may be a sensational story, or not.
It may be happy or sad, or both. What will make it memorable is how you tell it, the level of clarity and precision and insights you bring to your memories, the quality of the reflections that they give rise to, the characters evoked through them. Then it will just be a matter of having it read by the right people. Without vulnerability and exposure, without daring and risk, there can be no revelation. All memoirs are acts of fiction in the sense of not seeking objective truth.
Unless one is historically significant with achievements and pedigrees to legitimize us, our lives are ordinary. Memoirs are not acts of journalism, either. The writer selects from the monumental possibilities, strategizes, omits, truncates, and then surprisingly expands.
Firsthand: More than Memoir
One examines and revises, denies and exaggerates, and in that active engagement with the page, the unexpected emerges. Writing is about stunning and triumphing over the innocent page, which prefers you not bother it. Glennon Doyle Melton: Make time. I write first thing in the morning. My early-morning writing hours are my pocket of time to be a soul instead of a role.
I also believe we should choose carefully where we do our truth-telling. I started turning it into a memoir two years after it all happened, and I had enough distance to look at all of it somewhat objectively. So, in real time, we share with our tiny circle of trusted friends and maybe our therapist.
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The more personal it is, the more universal it is, too. Shannon Leone Fowler: My advice would be to read and write as much as possible — read widely, join a book club, keep a journal, start a writing group. Write chapters and pass them around to friends and family. Rewrite, revise, repeat. I found an agent in the early stages of writing Traveling with Ghosts , but it became increasingly clear the book she wanted to sell was not the book I wanted to write.
In the end, I finished with many revisions still to come and found an agent who completely believed in the story and in the way I wanted to tell it. Shannon Leone Fowler: Unflinching, uncomfortable, and unapologetic honesty is what makes a memoir stand out. Because a reader can see through an author who is trying to paint herself or himself in the best possible light, when each and every one of us is capable of noble acts of generosity as well as terrible acts of unkindness.
A truly great memoir reflects both of these qualities of the human experience, with moments of light and with moments of darkness. Glennon Doyle Melton: Truth. I believe that the truth sets us free. I think how that works is this: We think we are bad. We think our feelings and urges and secrets are shameful, and so we hide who we really are. That hiding leaves us isolated and disconnected from others, and often causes us to feel afraid and sick.
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And so we stop being so afraid of who we are. That realization empowers us to step out of hiding and take bigger steps towards others. Reading a great memoir makes you feel connected and brave and healthy. Peter Selgin: There are as many answers to the question as there are different kinds of memoirs.
How to Write a Memoir: 13 Key Elements of a Memoir You Need
For sure a sensational story can make for a sensational memoir. The next great challenge is to avoid sentimentality, which I define as emotions in excess of experience. You can even interview family or friends who might see an experience you share differently than you. One of the hardest parts about writing a memoir is the fact that we tend to be a wee bit biased with ourselves.
In order to learn how to write a memoir that really touches people in deep, emotional ways, you have to learn to be honest. When it comes to creating intrigue with your writing — and trust me, you want to do this, especially for a memoir — you have to write by showing, not telling.
Essentially, showing versus telling is the way in which you describe your experiences with an emphasis on emotion. Open yourself up to the truth behind who you are today. You have your focus, right? Having that overarching message is going to help you tie all of your memories together in a cohesive manner.
Some experiences may have led you to moments of realization that then led you to other events that tie into the main message you want others to gain from reading your memoir. Usually, writing a memoir is about looking back on your life and determining how you made it to who you are today. Each chapter should bring your readers back to your present-day life and how each memory affected where you are today.
And that means I have to be real with you and tell you that people want to hear your personality! Learning how to write a memoir includes figuring out how to put more of you into the pages. How do you ensure others will like our memoir? Write it in a way that makes it an entertaining read for yourself! Even though this is a memoir, there should still be a climax to keep readers intrigued.
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This would be when your life came to a head; where you struggled but was able to pull yourself out of the trenches and forge your own path. Without the ability to hook readers, convincing someone to buy and read your book will be a bit harder than anticipated. One major mistake many make when writing a memoir is not starting it off in a way that makes the readers connect with them. Think about when you were most invested in a book or even a TV show or movie. What did you like most? Could you relate to the author or the characters?
This is typically the best way to not only create invested readers but to gain fans. This writing method can be tricky to master but thankfully, there are countless resources to help you figure it out. Why did you want to start writing one in the first place? Everybody has an interesting life if you look deep enough. What you have to determine is how your life experiences can aid and shape the lives of others. These Self-Publishing School students and graduates! Christopher Moss, author of Hope Over Anxiety , says the best way to write your memoir is to be open about your experiences.
Show people your experience. Be as vulnerable and honest as you can.
The reader has to feel what you are going through. Bookstore Entire Site. Why Us? The Fundamental Differences between Memoir and Autobiography The line between memoir and autobiography is a fuzzy one, especially in this modern literary era where writers are constantly blurring the boundaries between genres to create a new, exciting one.
Learn More Whether you're curious to learn more, or you're ready to get started publishing, take the first step by claiming your free publishing guide.
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