In my last blog post, What to Write in a Memoir (Part 1), I touched on some of the mistakes memoir writers make, as well as what to include in your life story to make it compelling and valuable.
In this post, I am going to share what to EXCLUDE in a book about your life. After all, there is a lot at risk – your reputation, your relationships, and even your livelihood should you be sued.
What NOT to Write in Your Memoir
The most common mistakes I see in memoir include:
Telling stories about others that the writer may not have permission to share. There is a saying that there are three sides to every story: Person 1’s perspective, Person 2’s perspective, and the truth.
You can only speak for yourself. Don’t assume or read into other people’s thoughts, beliefs, emotions or motivations. Tell the story from your perspective and own it. Share your own feelings, and don’t assume you know what other’s feelings are.
Talking about people, places, or things in slanderous or inaccurate ways can get you into hot water. State facts and show examples rather than name calling or assuming information. Don’t be sloppy – do your research. Not telling the truth destroys your credibility.
The positive side of doing research and getting facts is that it builds rapport and credibility with your reader, and also helps them understand the setting or scene in a more compelling way. And, you won’t get hit with a slander lawsuit.
Sometimes we feel compelled to share more information than we need to. Often this comes in the form of an “information dump” at the beginning of the story. This isn’t needed, nor appropriate. Good story tellers weave this information in and let it be discovered. Sometimes oversharing is a problem when information comes into the story when appropriate context hasn’t been built. Again, don’t be sloppy – build your story rather than dump information.
Oversharing can also include giving the reader too much detail or sharing information that is confusing or unnecessary for moving the story forward.
On the flip side of oversharing is the opposite – not giving the reader enough background information or context. Sometimes this involves skipping over huge gaps of time without explanation, or being in a setting or scene that doesn’t make sense. Usually just a few sentences can fix this.
Another way this can show up in your writing is when you leave out how you feel or perceive a situation. Doing this assumes the reader thinks or feels the same way as you do, and that is not always the case. Connect the dots for the reader. Here are two examples to illustrate my point:
She walked into the room wearing red stilettos! I shook my head.
Did you shake your head in dismay or approval? Did you smirk or sigh at her boldness? Explain why you shook your head – there are too many things we can interpret here. Quick fix: …stilettos! I shook my head in disbelief that she’d show up so brass knowing the wrong she had done.
“Umm, boiled meat.”
Umm as in yum? Or umm as in disapproval? Share more about the beliefs behind this statement and what it means to you – don’t make assumptions that your reader know or believes the same as you. Quick fix: …meat. She snarled, curling up her vegetarian lips to me as though it was a bunny in the pot and not roast beef.
There are some unique techniques and “rules” specific to writing memoir. Knowing them and following the suggested actions makes the difference between a memoir that is compelling and well received, and a memoir that is bashed and trashed.
If you are considering writing a memoir, or a book with memoir components and feel you could use some help, schedule a free session with me to learn more about how I can help.