A memoir might be all about you or you may not feature in it at all.
It could be a family history retold by one character of several visiting characters that walk onstage and exit left.
It could unfold as a series of vignettes — funny, tragic or an observer or with the detachment of an older player in the tableau.
As Will Rogers observed “Memoirs mean when you put down the good things you ought to have done and leave out the bad ones you did do.”
In other words, your memoir may contain elements of fiction that, in the opinion of some, myself included, a little embellishment always makes a good story infinitely better.
As you see, you have to do a lot of thinking before you decide on your own approach. It also helps enormously to do a lot of reading so you can get the hang of what you want to do and where you want to go.
Then ask yourself the question: “Who cares?” It doesn’t matter a jot if you conclude no one does. They may care a lot once you’ve finished.
Decide whether you want to say something truly nasty things about your sister-in-law especially if she still lives next door though William Zinsser offers this advice: “Don’t worry about that problem in advance. Your first job is to get your story down as you remember it—now. Don’t look over your shoulder to see what relatives are perched there. Say what you want to say, freely and honestly, and finish the job. Then take up the privacy issue. If you wrote your family history only for your family, there’s no legal or ethical need to show it to anyone else. But if you have in mind a broader audience— a mailing to friends or a possible book—you may want to show your relatives the pages in which they are mentioned. That’s a basic courtesy; nobody wants to be surprised in print. It also gives them their moment to ask you to take certain passages out—which you may or may not agree to do.” William Zinsser is such a wise man.
For today, I’m taking the liberty of deciding this memoir will be written for you and your family. Here are the first steps to take: They are absolutely essential or, believe me, if you think you know better, you will get lost and abandon the project for ever.
- Decide, honestly, why you want to write this memoir.
- Write a 750 word précis of your idea. It will focus your thinking.
- Write a short review, imaging your memoir has already been completed. Be brutal. Many reviews are breathtakingly vicious.
- Draw sixteen little boxes, the size of Post-its® on each of several blank pages. Fill in the boxes with one word i.e. Grandmother. (You can give Grandmother several consecutive boxes.) Continue filling in the boxes in pencil) so you can erase them as you revise and change your mind.) Do this on your laptop if this is easier. They will serve as a road map and determine the approximate length of the memoir. Remember it is your outline and you can change it a little bit as new ideas pop up.
- Create a working title: this’ll also keep you focused.
- Make a realistic timetable for yourself. Commit to it. Set aside a time to write and stick to it.
- Think about including recipes. Discard that thought…it’s been done too often.
- Publish it on online and sit back and wait for the publishers to come running.