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Helpful Writing Tips

 

Memoir writing? "It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."—E.L. Doctorow.

An ordinary life becomes extraordinary when it jumps off the page!

Many people who decide to write an autobiography haven’t done much writing before, apart from papers in school or the occasional business correspondence. Don’t let the fear of “not being good enough” get in your way. You may want to craft your life story just for close friends and family to read. There’s no need to worry about perfection. The key is to capture your stories in your own voice for this special audience—and perhaps future generations—to appreciate. Of course, you also can aim your story for a broader audience. We have writers on staff to help you professionalize your work. Just ask!

In order to help you on this journey, Write My Memoirs has assembled some time-tested writing hints. These are techniques employed by amateurs and professional writers alike. We’ve included ideas for how to get started, break through writer's block and make writing come to you more naturally. 
 


Ideas

Getting Started

Look at your memoir as a project that may take you several weeks or months. Different people respond to different types of motivation. Although we believe it's not a good idea to pressure yourself to write a certain amount each day, it is important that you write something—whether it's an anecdote, a short memory or a full chapter—on a regular basis. Start with a simple topic that you know very well, such as one incident, person or period of time, and that should limit your anxiety. 

Make sure your desk, chair and lighting provide a comfortable writing experience. You need to be comfortable for the memories to flow. Congratulations - you're committed! You're on your way!


Begin Writing

Now that you’re perched comfortably at your computer and logged in to Write My Memoirs, jot down some quick phrases. Keep the thoughts loose, like "Camping with the cousins," or "Switching schools when I was 10." Remember, your autobiography is really just a collection of these smaller events. Storing them at Write My Memoirs will keep all your thoughts organized in one place and, after you complete our online interview form, our special technology will remind you of the milestones in your life as you cover each time period.

Good writing creates visual and emotional experiences for the reader. As you describe an episode in your life, try to remember the weather that day, what you were wearing and how you felt doing that activity or being with those people. Rather than a full narrative, some writers prefer to first write phrases and fill in the transitions later. You might write, “Hot weather and lots of mosquitoes at the beach. Kids in the water all day long. Everyone got sunburned.” This will serve as an outline that helps you complete the chapter with more information. 
 

If the memories aren’t flowing, take a look at our section called “What Makes a Memory” for some inspiration.


Take a Break

One of the most important parts of the writing process can be stopping. If you force yourself to write for a few hours or commit to a full chapter each day, you may find yourself thinking of writing as a chore. It should be something you enjoy, so be sure to give yourself permission to stop when you’re tired or just need a break.

Many writers find that taking a walk can be just the break they need from sitting in front of a computer screen. Simply walking around the block, running a quick errand or exercising your pet can give you a welcome diversion. When you return to the computer, you may find your thoughts are clearer and you’re ready to write a more fully formed story. 


Pulling Stories From the Past

Most likely, you have old family stories or family secrets that you want to include in your memoir, but you may not be sure of the facts or confident that your memory is guiding you accurately. The passage of time dims memories for everyone. It may be helpful for you to keep these vaguer recollections in the Write My Memoirs section called "My Stories" and give them a special title. Then contact your siblings and other relatives, former neighbors or parents' friends to ask them if they remember the story differently or more vividly. Collaboration in writing can be very helpful. And then just write what you believe is true without feeling the need to be 100% accurate. You're writing your memoir, which gives you more leeway than writing a history book.

Events that provoke extreme emotions are often the ones that first come to mind: Did you experience a very funny childhood event? Maybe there was a day full of joy or tragedy that springs to mind? Start with that event to trigger more memories of your earlier life.

Write My Memoirs includes a timeline of historical events and lists of inventions and famous people since 1930. These are not complete lists, but they can be helpful to remind you of what was going on in the world during the time frame you're tackling.


Busting Writer's Block

You may be rolling along for some time, writing a little bit each day or every week when, suddenly, you get stuck and the stories no longer come to mind easily. Or you may know what you want to write about but not know how to approach it. You may even have lost your drive to write at all. Don’t worry; this happens to all writers at one point or another, and there are plenty of ways around it!

The best way to address writer's block is to continue jotting down notes whenever your find yourself reminiscing. Carry a small notepad and pencil with you, because you never know when an idea might strike you. Most cell phones have a "notes" feature you can use, or just text yourself! If you're having lunch with a friend when something he says reminds you of a time the two of you shared, record it immediately. That may be enough to motivate you to write about it when you return homeit.

You also may find inspiration from reading biographies (such as the excellent presidential biographies by Doris Kearns Goodwin or David McCullough), memoirs (The Diary of Anne Frank or Iacocca are just two examples), fiction (Memoirs of a Geisha or The Namesake) or writing instruction (Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, is a superb writer's chronicle.) Reading can show you how a story unfolds and can give you new perspective on your life’s events.


The Write My Memoirs Tool

Suggested Beginnings

Listed below are some suggestions to assist you in getting started with your memoir. 

I was born on (insert date), the (1st, 2nd, 3rd) child of (# of siblings).
The world at that time was (at war, at peace; times were booming, in recession).
Our family lived in____________, which was a (middle class, affluent) neighborhood.
My earliest memories are of______________________.
I attended _____________ elementary school and remember_________.
My days at school were (happy, sad, tumultuous, difficult). I was a (good, average, poor, excellent) student, active in__________. I had (many, few) friends.
My family moved to this country in _____________.
My mother was a (adjective) woman, my father was a (adjective) man. They spent (a lot of time, no time) with us growing up. We were a (close, distant) family.

Early Years
Many people have trouble recalling their early youth. What might be useful is describing your parents. How would you describe your mother and father? You may remember the birth of a younger sibling, an illness in the family or the move to a new home. Keep in mind that you don't have to write your story chronologically. You may find it easier to come back to this section after you've written about more recent events.

Elementary School
Remember that friendships were formed at this time, learning skills were developed and for many it was a fun time. Certain teachers may have influenced you positively, and some may have been tyrants. How did it feel that first day?

High School
High school, for many, opened new doors. Learning was raised to a new level with greater demands. There were academic clubs to be part of, social clubs and athletic teams. You may have started dating. Is this when you first fell in love? Friendships were formed that may have lasted to the present. You could write a whole story about your favorite music of the time.

College/University/Trade School
Did you continue your education after high school? This period in most lives was very critical. Horizons were opened. For many it was a time to meet students with different backgrounds and from other parts of the country or the world. There may have been fraternities, sororities or social clubs. Did you meet your spouse at this time?

Military Service
Our experience has been that veterans' military service is a critical piece of their autobiography. Our writers who have served tend to remember a lot of detail about this time in their lives. You are not alone if you spend several chapters on your war or peacetime experiences serving away from home.

Work Experience
Do you remember your first job interview? What was your first job? Were there any friendships made through work that have continued? Why did you leave the job?

My Stories
This chapter allows you to write any interesting event you want. You can title it for the specific event and then capture another story or event with a different title. This, perhaps, could become the most used section of your Write My Memoirs account. It also may be the best section to start with.



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