Do You Know What to Include in Your Memoir?

shallow focus of letter paper

When you’re writing a memoir, there’s a temptation to go into the excruciating minutiae of your life – the good, the bad, and the ugly. But how can you figure out what’s worth including and what’s better off left behind in editing?

Memoir writers face a unique challenge: how do you tell your story without including every single detail? There is the urge to delve into the excruciating detail of everything that happened. But how do you strike that balance between sharing enough information to hold the reader’s interest, but not so much that it loses cohesion? 

It is for this reason that it is crucial to maintain an understated tone throughout your memoir if you do not want readers to give up on your book after reading only one chapter. Incorporating just the right level of detail will help keep readers reading and engaged. Here are some ways to start thinking about what should a memoir include and what it could do without.

Keep in mind that even every day is extraordinary

A memoir that would otherwise be wonderful can be killed by having too much or too little detail. You may realize you’ve found yourself on this end of the spectrum if your memoir tends to focus more on the broader strokes of your life. While keeping your memoir solid and on the theme is vital for good storytelling, this can sometimes make the experience feel vague or impersonal. 

The content of a memoir must include some element of grounded, daily detail. Think back to your life and note any specific moments that were important to you. Furthermore, keep an eye out for your everyday life. You might just notice small moments that are noteworthy. 

Take a look outside the mirror

Writing about your life may feel a bit like looking in a mirror. But even “inside the glass” memoirs can benefit from a bit of osmosis. You may find that one of the best ways to get a different perspective on your own story is to look at it from the outside. To do this, you have to actively start seeing yourself from the eyes of others. 

One way to do this is to try to put yourself in the shoes of the people around you. If you’re trying to look back on your youth, put yourself in the shoes of a peer. Try to see things from the perspective of the person you formerly loved if you want to understand why a relationship went wrong. This is a skill that can be improved upon through practice or taking part in online memoir classes. As you look at your life from outside yourself, you’ll eventually come to see things in a new light. 

Feel free to take your time

Memoirs are a form of storytelling, so why rush through them? If anything, you should be taking your time in order to ensure that your memoir is well-crafted and authentic. Fiction can often be rushed toward completion, but a memoir can’t. You have to leave enough room to let your words flow and to make sure that every sentence is as engaging as the one before it. 

You also have to leave room for editing prior to the publishing process. Memoirs are a form of “found” writing, in which you have to be comfortable with the words that come out of your fingers. You have to be confident enough in your own voice that you can accept editing suggestions. If you’re not quite there yet, take your time and let your memoir unfold. You may find that you take on new life as you go.

Stand firm in your truth and share it

There’s a fine line between sharing your artistic truth and creating a false impression. This is especially important in memoirs that include sensitive or intimate details. If you want your memoir to be taken seriously, you have to be willing to be open and honest about the things that really matter to you. But you don’t have to be unnecessarily raw. You don’t have to share details that are difficult to hear and may not be relevant to the larger story you’re trying to tell. Common elements of a memoir include stories about childhood, trauma, and relationships, all topics with their own unique perspectives. 

When you share your truth, you also have to be aware of the impression you’re creating. Your memoir has to have a point and a purpose, otherwise the words may not form any greater whole. 

Bottom line

Few things are more gratifying than writing your own memoir. It can be a deeply personal experience, one that can offer a unique perspective on your life and your times. But when it comes time to decide the logistical issues like how to decide how many pages to write for a memoir, or what’s worth detailing, the task can grow more daunting. Luckily, by keeping these few ideas in mind, you’ll be able to create a memorable and engaging read with a little bit of hard work.

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