At its best, memoir writing explores a portion of a life lived in a unique open way, filled with adventurous experiences, transformation, lessons learned, a solid story structure, and prose that shimmers off the page as lusciously as any novel, and as poetically as any great poem.
Everyone is struggling to figure our their existence within this world, and the best memoirs are the ones that help people better understand where they fit in. If you look at the recent popularity of memoirs like Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, it’s evident that most women who experienced heartbreak were able to relate. In fact, most people can identify with the chain of losing yourself in a relationship, having that relationship end, and then struggling with the process of rediscovering who you are.
So, where does your story begin? How do you make your memoir relatable? How do you make people want to keep turning the page? Below are tips and writing prompts specifically for memoir writing that will help:
What story are you trying to tell?
Too often memoir writers try to tell too much. You are not writing an autobiography. A memoir covers a section of a life. It could be about the last three weeks of your best friend’s life, or the ten years it took you to get off prescription pills.
How does your past affect this section of your life?
One of the great defining characteristics of contemporary memoir is the unique play of time using flashback, dream sequence, and future projecting– my favorite example being Boys of my Youth by Joanne Beard. But what we aren’t doing is chronologically recalling an entire life. Past experiences can be useful tools, but only use them in relation to the story you are telling.
What do you enjoy about life?
Many memoirs touch on heavy and distressing subjects. But you don’t want to drown your readers in misery. Think about the things you enjoyed. What pleasures did you experience from that time period? Sharing small moments of happiness with your readers will brighten up even the darkest of experiences and will give your readers hope.
What does your memoir time capsule look like?
If you had to gather up people and objects from that section of your life, who and what would be included? Write down whatever comes to mind and use this list as a reference for the characters and scenes in your memoir. Including little details will round out your characters and give depth to your story.
What conflict is being solved?
Even if nothing dramatic is taking place, some sort of conflict is working itself out in your memoir. Think “problem = solution”. Just like you, people are searching for answers. Give them some.
Who did you used to be?
Make a list of all of your old pet peeves, desires, likes, dislikes, and personality traits. What did you use to obsess over? What situations did you engage in or avoid? Since you are writing your memoir as your present self, it will help to have reminders of who you used to be.
Did you have any pets?
Animal companions are key players in the stories of our lives. If you had any pets during the section of your life that is in your memoir, make sure to include them. Your relationship with your pets will also provide insight into your character. Plus, pets are highly relatable. Almost everyone has had an animal companion at some point in their lives.
For writing prompts to really inspire, for them to thoroughly bleed into you and push you deep into the page, it helps to actually be there with the teacher. So if you’ve been thinking about taking a workshop from a master teacher, do it. Don’t hesitate, no excuses, go for it. Take the plunge, your writing and heart will shine from the experience.