Writing a Memoir
Carol discusses the differences between writing a memoir and writing an autobiography. She includes references to her book about her daughter, Amee.
Everyone Has a Story
Everyone has a story. We have the good parts, the happy memories, and the encouraging times of accomplishment. Some parts might be messy. There will be the struggles that happen in every good story and in life we have to go through them whether we want to or not. Some parts of the story can be downright ugly moments. People might have financial problems, relationships that hurt, disintegrate, or are toxic. There could be health crisis—how often do we hear about someone, maybe ourselves, who faced the cancer diagnosis? Addictions, depression, and lost dreams might show up too.
Stories We Hide
There are lots of portions of our story, our puzzle of life, we don’t want to discuss. We would like to stuff them deep inside, out of sight by not talking about them. Then we can move on and pretend they never happened. But they, along with all the good memories and glimpses of joy, are part of the puzzle pieces of our lives and make up a portion of who we are today.
Writing a Memoir Means Including Events of Significance
Writing a memoir does not mean writing your autobiography which is the story of all of your life. Instead a memoir looks at an event within our lives, a turning point for us and something of great significance. This event might take place over a period of time and be an ongoing series of smaller events or moments. For example a memoir might be your journey through cancer or living with a chronic condition like COPD—you fill in the blank. It could be thematic and deal with surviving a traumatic event or serious accident. It can be about an interesting occupation you lived and the lessons learned or people met.
My book, Amee’s Story, is a chronological telling of my youngest daughter’s life and my journey with her and God. We lived and learned about a place we never expected to travel after she suffered a stroke at birth.
Remember it is and has to be your story to tell. You don’t want to dwell just on the negative but the audience or readers need to know enough details to get the picture. Then they need to see the hope you found, hear the nuggets of truth you discovered and the lessons you learned that can provide a take away message for them. People really do want to know what’s in it for them.
How Can Writing a Memoir Help?
How can writing a memoir help you and your readers? These are two very good questions. Often as we work through the events we choose to write about, we have an opportunity to do some healing. God can show us how he brought us through the event, no matter how hard or ugly it might have been. It is a process and this can be part of it.
People who hear about your journey or read it can help people realize they are not alone. It might provide answers in their own situations or spur them on to reaching for their own goals. The nuggets of truth and take-away messages can have lasting effects on those who read them. It is also an opportunity to share what God has done in your life to bring you from where you were to where you are now.
I have many things I could write about and am beginning to write more of the stories, the memoirs so to speak of my life’s journey. In Amee’s Story I recalled standing at her incubator in tears, not knowing what else to pray. I felt devastated, discouraged, and in need of God’s help and then he showed me in a way only God can do that he had a plan. He only asked me to trust him on a deeper level than I ever had before.
There are big moments, turning points in our lives and that was one for me. Yet even ordinary accomplishments can provide material for shorter pieces like devotionals, or show up in stories or on programs like this. Small bits of joy or a divine appointment can become an encouragement for you and others when you share them.
Before writing a memoir, look at events in your life. Jot them down and what you learned through them. What happened? How did it change your life? Who walked with you through it? Where are you now and how did you get from there to here? What lessons did you learn that you want to share with someone else?
After you revisit events and lessons learned, you need to decide which part you want to share. Sometimes we are not ready to share about one thing but we might have ideas of other things we can write about. Trust in God’s timing to know when and what to share. You may want to write the memoir for you and your healing journey or maybe for family members but not the general public.
One More Step in Writing a Memoir
One more step as you work on writing this memoir or multiple ones over time, is to learn and implement the art of good storytelling. Start where you grab the reader’s attention. As I began writing Amee’s Story many years ago, I added more details than necessary to the beginning of the story. Another writer helped me cut to the attention grabbing details and told me I could weave the rest in later if I felt it was necessary. Turns out it wasn’t.
“The hands of the clock edged past midnight. August 4, 1982, had arrived.” So begins Amee’s Story. But hooking the reader’s attention is only part of the learning curve. I needed to keep the story to important facts, strong writing, and chapters ending in a way the reader’s needed to run the page and continue with the story, like this ending to chapter one.
You have a story, many stories, to tell. Some will be for your family only. But are there others you can use to write a memoir and share with readers so they have the opportunity to learn about how God worked in your life? If you want to take up the challenge and write a memoir, this is a glimpse into why and a bit of the process. There is lots of help available so you can learn more about writing a memoir.
Carol Harrison B.Ed is a speaker and published author with one book, Amee’s Story and stories in twelve anthologies. She is passionate about helping people of all ages and ability levels find their voice and reach their fullest potential.
She knows, through personal experience that some of life’s experiences are tougher than others. She encourages people that even in the twists and turns of life God’s amazing grace provides hope.
She lives in Saskatoon, SK with her husband Brian. They have four adult children and a dozen grandchildren.