Memoir writing: it’s in the telling

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Part 3 in the series ‘ who wants to read about you’. Linda J Pifer, author of Windows and Violet Hopes.

You’ve done your preparation work with pictures and memorabilia; you’ve set up the outline and made some decisions on how you’d like to group the facts of your story. You are ready!

Enter your first outline header and begin to enlarge on each story note, bringing all you can remember or wish to say on the subject. Please don’t waste your time worrying about format or the question of whether you want to give all this info to the masses. Just write, and keep a ‘to do’ list either as notes along the side of the document, or as handwritten notes corresponding to the outline header and subject. What ‘to-dos’ am I referring to? Here are just a few that may occur to you:

Hdr#1 – Aunt Rose’s first husband’s name?
Subtitle#2 – Where did she get that unusual tattoo? Is there a story? (Ask Mum).
Hdr#4 – Which year did I take that disastrous trip to Suffolk?
Hdr#7 – Do I really want to include ‘him’ in this Love Life section?

By keeping a to-do list, you can forge ahead with your writing freed of most side-trips into review and research. Leave a highlighted line or add a comment note to each location you want to return to with new info updates or corrections.

Keep all of that you’ve written intact until the last word

Some writers return at the end of the day to read over their work; some even edit material regularly through the writing process. I’ve learned the practice of early content editing can cause a lot of rework instead of saving time as intended. Since you really don’t know the overall result of your effort until it’s on the paper from beginning to end, some of your edits might actually take away from the story’s overall feeling and need to be added back. My recommendation: keep all of that you’ve written intact until the last word; then add research results and confirm facts. Then you can decide whether to include ‘him’ in the book. You’ll have time enough for editing when your first write is completed.

Don’t forget to intersperse humour as a buffer to the more serious subjects

So you’re not a professional comedian; remember those corny jokes your Dad used to tell? He wasn’t much of a comedian either but you’re laughing now, right? Surely you’ve experienced some weird moments that others will find humorous. What about that embarrassing time your underwear lost its zing and fell to your knees on the dance floor? How red was your face? It’s human nature to remember the ridiculous realities of life and laugh about them later, so share them and have a good laugh; you deserve it and people will identify and enjoy your company.

A more subtle and thoughtful smile can be elicited if you’re describing a serious life event such as a death in the family. By adding a text box containing an adventure or joke shared between you and the deceased in earlier days, you speak well of the departed and show you remember him or her in better days while lightening up the subject for the reader.

Memoir writing can be tricky if your family supplies, shall we say ‘opportunities’ for drama

If you value your relationships, clear the release of family secrets, and disagreements first with the people involved. There may be a good reason in your mind to talk about the time Aunt Maude’s wedding reception ended with a fight, or the time Uncle Harry’s ‘toupe’ fell off, but those involved may disagree. Learn all the facts firsthand before you make your decisions.

 

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Books by Linda J Pifer

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