Write A Memoir: 3 Tips Turn Your Life Into Fiction Or Nonfiction

If you’re looking for book ideas, why not write a memoir? You already have the content—you’ve got the advice to “write what you know” well and truly covered.

Unfortunately, most authors experience stumbling blocks when they write from real life. We’ll look at some tips to help you to overcome them.

A quick note: these tips are for you if you’re writing for publication, whether traditional, or as a self-publishing author. If you’re writing for yourself, as a hobby, write whatever you like—writing a memoir can be therapeutic.

Firstly, what’s a memoir?

Want to write from your life? Write a memoir

A memoir is a slice of your life; an incident, an experience, something which has a beginning and an end, as well as conflict, climax and resolution…

And if that’s not enough, ideally, your memoir covers an experience which changed your life in some way. You learned something, and you pass that lesson (takeaway) on to your readers.

You may be wondering about the difference between a memoir, a biography, and an autobiography.

Here they are, in brief:

  • Memoir: a meaningful story from someone’s life, usually your own. Alternatively, a client’s life if they’ve hired you as a ghostwriter;
  • Biography: someone’s life from go to whoa. It will be “unauthorized” if you’re writing a biography of a living person: as you might do, should a publisher commission you, for example;
  • Autobiography: your life, from go to whoa, written by you. However, as with a memoir, if you’re ghostwriting the project, it’s your client’s life.

Let’s look at some tips to help you to write a memoir.

1. A dramatic, unusual, or unique experience works best

When you write a memoir, you’re writing for readers. This means drama and entertainment—you’ll use many of the elements of fiction.

To get you thinking about your life, and how you might write a memoir from your own material, Good Housekeeping has a useful list: 25 Best Memoirs of All Time Make You Laugh, Cry and Think.

Consider:

  • Something horrible you survived. Have you or someone in your family recovered from an illness, or tragic incident?
  • Humor is excellent. I read Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I many years ago; it still makes me smile. (She and her husband ran a chicken farm.)
  • Anything unusual. These days, many people go off the grid, out into a rural or wilderness area so they can live sustainably. Or perhaps you had an unusual job, or took on a challenge, as Julie Powell did. She blogged, then wrote Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.

When you’ve chosen your dramatic slice of life, will you fictionalize it, or write it as nonfiction?

2. Fiction or nonfiction? Choose the best approach

A major consideration when you write a memoir: how are other people affected? They may not appreciate appearing in your book. So if you’re writing straight nonfiction, be sure to tell those involved about what you’re doing.

Or avoid the “all the facts” approach entirely. You can write a memoir, but fictionalize parts of it: change names and locations.

Alternatively, you can write straight fiction—fictionalize the story completely. If the experiences you’re covering will put others in a bad light, consider that approach.

3. What’s the point? Pick the reason readers will read your book

When you write for readers, you need a reason for them to read—what will they take away from your book? Is it an entertaining, dramatic story? What will readers learn?

Check your bookstore, or Amazon, and read the blurbs of bestselling memoirs. For example, here’s the Amazon blurb for Glennon Doyle’s Untamed:

In her most revealing and powerful memoir yet, the activist, speaker, bestselling author… explores the joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet others’ expectations and start trusting the voice deep within us.

Consider your own blurb. Why not write your blurb before you start creating? Here’s why: an initial “starter” blurb keeps you focused; all writing tends to morph while we write.

Want to write a memoir? Start writing

A memoir can lead to unexpected opportunities.

My writer colleague decided to write about a time in her life when everything went wrong. She had no intention of publishing the memoir, it was for her own entertainment; she wanted to make the book funny. “I just wanted to see if I could slant it that way,” she said.

Unexpectedly, a month into the project, she chatted with a friend and mentioned it. Several days later, a literary agent called. The friend mentioned the memoir to someone else… And the agent heard about it.

Readers enjoy memoirs, that’s why the book grabbed an agent’s interest; you may enjoy writing your own.


 

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