Wondering If You Should Share Your Life Story Through a Memoir? Here’s How to Decide.

Shape Your Legacy
how to write a memoir
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If you’ve been walking around the face of the earth for five decades or more, you’ve covered a lot miles.

And collected a lot of stories.

By now, your personal story covers every possible genre – comedy, romance, tragedy, mystery, adventure, and everything in between.

Some of your anecdotes are amusing, some are deeply profound, others are cautionary tales – stories of what not to do.

(As I mentioned in a recent post, if you’re thinking of buying a 20-year-old RV – don’t. Just don’t. Not unless you have a money tree growing in your backyard. And if you do, can you send me a cutting?)

But you’ve definitely collected an entire book’s worth of stories by now, maybe an entire series! Does that mean you should write a book about your personal experiences?

Over the years, people have asked me this question countless times. Should I write a memoir?

My answer?

It depends.

UNDERSTAND YOUR MOTIVATION

Before you begin, it’s a good idea to ask yourself some questions. The first one is the most important.

Why do you want to write your story?

Will this be a journey of self-discovery? A way for you to make sense of or come to terms with the events, personalities, and history of your life?  A personal catharsis?

If so, are you emotionally ready to take that journey? Writing your personal story can get…well…personal.  And painful.

I’m not trying to dissuade you from digging deep and getting your hands dirty. The story will probably be much more interesting if you do. Just make sure that you’re mentally and emotionally strong enough to revisit the rough spots and pressure points of life. If you are, writing your memoir can be enlightening, even freeing.

Are you more interested in recording the facts or setting the record straight for future generations?

Setting down a personal or family history can be a great reason to write a memoir. But you need to ask yourself if you’ve got all the facts. If not, be prepared to do some research. (That might actually turn out to be one of the most fun parts of the project!)

However, if you’re hoping to settle old scores, I urge you to think carefully before you proceed. Airing old grievances probably won’t change the minds of the people who hurt you. And you might end up tearing open old wounds in your own life.

Do you hope to share what you’ve learned? Is your goal to help, warn, or teach others? Do you hope to illustrate a point or illuminate a theme?

Teaching life lessons is good reason to write a memoir. However, it’s probably also the toughest kind of memoir project to tackle. Unless you are already an experienced writer, you might need some instruction and input along the way. Your local community college may offer some excellent, inexpensive creative non-fiction or memoir classes to help you get started.

 

WHO ARE YOU WRITING FOR?

Is this something you’re doing just for you? Do you ever plan to let anyone else read your work?

If you are writing only for yourself, journaling might serve your purpose just as well and be less work. Whichever route you choose, consider the fact that even if you never intend to share this project, others might see it some day. This will help you decide how unguarded you wish to be. Sometimes it’s a good idea to change names (and even circumstances and timelines) to protect the innocent.

Is this something you will share only with family, friends, or a small and select group of readers? Or will you be writing your story with the hope of sharing it a large audience? Friends and family as well as people you may never meet?

In either case, you need to approach the writing task with that in mind.

Ask yourself what questions or subjects would be most interesting to that audience. What friends and family want to know about you and your life may be quite different than what strangers would find interesting about your life.

 

WHAT KIND OF STORY ARE YOU WRITING?

Do you plan to write a memoir or an autobiography?  People use the words interchangeably but they are actually two different animals.

An autobiography is the life story of the person who is writing it. Normally, the book is structured in chronological order, beginning at birth and continuing on through the author’s life to the present day.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela is an example of autobiography. It tells the story of Mandela’s life from childhood, through his struggle for civil rights, to release from prison and election as president of South Africa.

A memoir is also a personal story but is focused on specific anecdotes, vignettes, or a particular season of life to explore a specific theme or impart a truth or lesson.

Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro is an example of memoir. It recounts the author’s upbringing in a middle class Jewish home, through the disastrous affair with a controlling, older man that derailed her life, to her early twenties when she finally broke free and took control of her destiny.

 

HOW WILL YOU PUBLISH OR SHARE YOUR STORY?

Do you plan to self-publish your memoir? Or are you hoping to get a paid book contract with a traditional publishing house? Your answer to these questions may depend on who you are hoping will read your story.

If you’re writing for a small audience of family and friends, you’ll definitely want to self publish.

That might mean simply having a few copies printed and spiral bound at the local office supply store. It could also mean hiring a company to create a soft or hard cover, then edit, print, and bind your book.

If you’re going to engage a self-publishing company, be sure to check them out carefully beforehand. Also, make sure you’re clear about costs up front. There are lots of great self-publishers out there. There are also a lot of liars, cheats and thieves.  It’s up to you to separate the sheep from the goats!

Getting a paid contract with a publishing house isn’t easy but it isn’t impossible either. If you’re really passionate about getting your story out to the world, don’t let the odds discourage you.

However, to reach your goal, you’ll need to work hard and produce a riveting and well-written story.  No matter how hard you work or well you write, there are no guarantees that a publisher will want your book. You need to make peace with that before you start. On the other hand, you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Taking some classes and possibly joining a writers group will really improve your chances. Plus, you’ll learn something new and probably enjoy doing it.

Isn’t that what being fierce is all about?

SO…SHOULD I WRITE MY MEMOIR?

I don’t know.

Hopefully, answering the questions above helped you reach your own conclusion. Your opinion is the only one that matters here. Not mine. Not your sister’s, or best friend’s, or next door neighbor’s – yours.

One thing I know for certain is that the world is full of fascinating people with fascinating stories. Including yours.

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