One of the most frequent questions I am asked in regarding to writing a memoir is what to include and what to exclude. I love getting this question, because often when I review a memoir manuscript where this wasn’t asked, I find some serious problems.
These problems include:
- Telling stories about others that the writer may not have permission to share
- Talking about people, places, or things in slanderous or inaccurate ways
- Oversharing information that could cause more harm than good
- Trying to tell too much that doesn’t move the story forward
- Giving too much detail when it isn’t needed
- Not giving enough information or background/context
- Recounting information factually, rather than telling a compelling story
- Leaving out feelings, or assuming the reader thinks and feels the same way the writer does
Why do any of these matter? Well, include the wrong thing and you open yourself up to a lot of potential pain: emotionally, if your friends or family are hurt by what you said; legally if you break confidentiality agreements or commit slander; and professionally, if you share something overly vulnerable. Bottom line, I have your backside and won’t let you expose your ass.
What To Write in Your Memoir
Remember than no one can write their entire life story. You likely don’t remember your birth and very early years, and while you can get that information from interviews, it isn’t always needed.
For example, I had one client who became blind during his birth due to an accident. This was critical for the story, so we shared it.
Another client was sharing about her adventures in her adult life, so writing about her birth had really no value. We briefly recapped some highlights of her childhood home life, but otherwise went right into her story.
Overall, consider what you want the reader to learn and walk away with.
- Stories that drive interest and help us understand the journey you are taking us on
- Stories that show us certain traits or attributes about you as a person that come into play later in the book
- Stories that introduce us to valuable characters and relevant settings
- Stories that share your thoughts, feelings, beliefs
Your memoir isn’t just a chronological listing of events in your life. In fact, I often coach my clients to look to their outline for inspiration, but not follow a chronological path.
For most people, following themes makes more sense – but not always. It comes back to your end goal and what you want your audience to leave feeling and knowing after reading your book.
In the next blog, What to Write in a Memoir (Part 2), I will share about what to exclude or not talk about in your memoir, including examples of what I’ve seen in the past and why it is ineffective.
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.