A Little More Memoir Encouragement

It was my great pleasure to discuss memoir writing in an recent interview with writer, teacher, writer coach, and friend Joan Raymond. Joan features an interview with an author each week on her YouTube Channel and covers all genres and aspects of writing.

For many years I have conducted memoir writing workshops and classes, and those who know me outside of those events have heard me say, “That’s a great story. You need to write that down.” They often smile and nod–or get a nervous look on their faces. Sometimes they say, “Some day.” Sometimes they say, “Nobody wants to read my stories. I’ve just had an ordinary life.”

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you no life is “ordinary.” We all have our trials to deal with and overcome and our triumphs to celebrate. Writing some of those shines a light that allows others who read our stories to get to know us better or to share in our memories. How many of us wish we had asked our parents about their lives while they were still around?

Writing our stories also provides us with a life review and validation. It brings back long-ago experiences and allows us to marvel at what we’ve accomplished and/or to be amazed we survived.

No matter what or how we write them, our stories will be precious to our families and future generations who may not have the privilege of getting to know us any other way. Our stories leave a legacy that can be passed down.

For a little more encouragement, and some memoir writing tips and secrets, check out Joan Raymond’s YouTube Channel to see my interview with her. And if you feel even the tiniest inkling of desire to write one story, get started! Your family will thank you.

~ xoA ~


So You’re Ready to Write Your Memoir

Your family and friends marvel at your stories. They have urged you — or perhaps pestered you — to write your memoir. Now is a good time to start. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Or lengthy. Or tell ALL.

[Close up of old typewriter covered with dust with it all began text; Getty Images]

Different from autobiographies, memoirs can come from a period of time, a slice of your life. They can be a grouping of life stories that depict you at different stages and times — your young life growing up; experiences changing to a new school, town, job; tales of your hobbies, travels, adventures — anything you want.

Be assured, your family will appreciate whatever you write. Your stories give them a snapshot of you, someone who’s important to them. Your stories are the keepers of their memories and relationship with you.

When Writing Memoir . . .

  • Don’t worry about how what you’ve written sounds. Just get it down. You can revise and edit later if you choose.
  • Be yourself. Write the way you talk, keeping your own personal flavor. This reflects who you are and where you came from. It humanizes the words on the page and lets your reader recognize your voice.
  • Make your story more than a recitation of events or an itinerary. Include your feelings and opinions. Talk about your relationships with family members, co-workers, school mates and friends. It’s okay to recreate conversations.
  • Include historical references.  Put yourself and your story in the context of history. Tell about historical events from your own point of view. Include how they affected you personally. Compare and contrast how things were before, at the time, and how they are today. How did it change your life? How have you changed and grown.
  • Include humor. Tell your readers about some things that made you laugh.  Awful or embarrassing times are much funnier in retrospect so include some of those events and tell what they taught or how they affected you.
  • Share a bit of wisdom—without lecturing. Now that you reflect on an event, what did you learn, what else could you have done, or what do you now see about the situation?
  • You don’t have to write it all from memory. Use photo albums, documents, old songs that trigger recollections, old movies, reunions. You can also interview others who were there.
  • Tell the truth to the best of your recollection. These are your memories, and they may differ from the memories others have of the same incident or situation. You don’t have to write everything or “tell all.”  It’s okay to keep some things private.
  • Remember the news story requirements: Who? What? Why? How? Where? and When?  Your story needs to answer these questions for your reader.
  • Read others’ memoirs and get a feel for the kinds of stories the authors include.

No one can tell your story like you can. You don’t have to be “a writer.” Just be you.

~ xoA


Seeing with New Eyes

Photo by cottonbro on

(Revise:   re = again, anew; vise = to see)

Story Arc

Having worked with your story adding, cutting, rewriting, choosing specific vocabulary, you now have a good sense of the story’s arc, its sense of movement. A beginning, a middle, and an ending will be evident. The characters will have evolved—learned, grown, or changed in some way.

Check back with the three-sentence summary you wrote earlier. Does it still fit? Or does it fit better? Or does the summary need to change?

Use Other Senses

Allow your ears to help with revision. Read your story aloud or let your computer read it to you. Record yourself reading it or enlist someone else to read it aloud to you.  Listen for the rhythm of sentences and paragraphs. Notice places where you or the reader stumble or stop and later see how you might smooth out those places. It might be a word change or a sentence reorganization that helps. Hear discrepancies or places where the action shifts in a way that doesn’t fit.

Manipulating by hand can be helpful when revising. I like to print my story using a large font with extra space between paragraphs. Next, I cut the story into paragraph pieces and rearrange them. I find the act of physically moving the paragraphs around and reordering easier to see than trying to figure out rearrangement of large chunks of writing using the computer’s cut/paste feature. Then I can cut and paste the paragraphs into the new order.

Additional Helpful Options

Writer and teacher Julia Green recommends several other revision tactics. I’ve tried most of these:

  • Put it in the drawer. Give the piece time to settle and yourself time to step back from the work to see it more clearly. It’s been 18 years since I wrote that first version of “Mom’s Story.” You don’t need to wait that long, but a couple of weeks might work to provide enough distance.
  • Get feedback from folks you trust. And not necessarily writers; it’s good to know how your intended audience reads the piece.
  • Play with sentence length, structure, and language.  Vary your sentence length and sentence patterns and use more specific language.
  • Try cutting to get your word count down. Chopping the word count can result in a more cohesive piece. The 900-word article I submitted to a local magazine was so much better after they returned it to me, and I cut it to the 750 words they requested.
  • Highlight everything you think is working well. Delete the rest and go from there. This is one tip I’m eager to try.

If you have revision tips to share, please feel free to do so in the comments. I’d love to see what other writers do in this stage of the writing process.

There’s no one-size-fits-all revision process. But anything you do will make a difference in the piece. So be unafraid to dive in and work with your writing to shape it into what you’re after and to satisfy the writer in you. One thing at a time. “Bird by bird.”  ~ xoA

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“[T]he first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”

              —Ann LaMott in Bird by Bird.