If you’re familiar with the bucket list ‘must do’s’ of the 50 plus population, it will come as no surprise to that many approaching retirement, or already enjoying it, want write a memoir.
For whatever reason, we all feel we have a story to tell – and many of us want to get it out there. Whether we aim to share it with the world or just our grandchildren, it’s something we can all aspire to, and usually, the only thing stopping us is knowing how to begin.
We asked a seasoned author to give us their top hints on how to write about your own life – and this is what they said.
Most memoir writers begin by trying to cover the story of their life from childhood to the present day, and soon get bogged down. Let’s face it, not every second of our lives is interesting – to us or anyone else. Better by far is to write about single incidents which do capture the imagination (such as the time you went hunting and found yourself trapped by a flooded river just as your food was running low). Once you’ve written about eight or 10 incidents, you’re on your way to a short story collection or a series of ‘chapters’ that can be linked together.
And if you’re happy with a piece you’ve written, why not submit it to GrownUps, to be considered for publication?
Authors do a great deal of thinking before they ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard – and as a budding memoir writer, you are no different. But, at some stage, the thinking has to stop so the writing can begin. The first sentence is always the hardest, so set yourself a goal of writing 20 lines without pausing. Then, without re-reading what you’ve written, do the same again … and again. Only read your work to yourself once you have 100 lines – and no matter how you feel about what you’ve written, DON’T ditch it! Professional authors know that no matter how poor they feel their writing may be, 50% is always salvageable when looked at it the following day!
Start at the top and work back
No matter what story in your life you want to write about, always begin at its most exciting point. If your story is about a Lotto win, for example, begin at the point where the person checking your ticket gives you the ‘you’ve won something’ look. Then, while the reader waits to find out whether you’ve won $100 or one hundred million, go back and recount where you bought the ticket and why. And while you’re at it, why not throw in the bit about how your partner almost accidentally threw the ticket away!
Trust your own voice
One of the biggest problems first time writers have is believing they need to sound like someone other than themselves. However, your own voice is unique – and the best one to tell your story. If you feel you don’t know how to write, try narrating your story out loud (recording it if necessary), then write down what you hear. When you read it back, you’ll be surprised to find you’ve found your very own style.
Use a fresh eye
How do we know when our writing no longer holds a reader’s interest? The truth is, it’s not easy to tell – at least not until we stand back from it. This ‘standing back’ is what authors call ‘gaining a fresh eye’. To gain a ‘fresh eye’, put your story away for at least two full days, then read it again. If you feel some parts of the story feel ‘tired’, don’t be afraid to chop those sections out.