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Writing down your life story

Writing down your life story Most memoirs end

People choose to write about their lives for a variety of reasons, including a desire to leave a memoir for their children and future generations, to create a record for themselves so they can be reminded of their youthful adventures when they’re old and forgetful, and to offer something of value to the rest of the world. Writing a memoir is a very personal experience, but if you’re willing to share your life story, it can be incredibly rewarding.

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Understand the memoir genre. In a memoir, you are the main character of your own life story. Many memoirists use the facts of their life story to create an engaging tale for the reader. Because you are relying on your own memories as source material for the story, you may end up describing things differently than others might remember it. The key is to write down things as you remember it, in the most honest way possible. Keep in mind memoirs are different from autobiographies in that memoirs should only cover certain key aspects of your life, not your life from birth until the present day. [1]

  • Most memoirists struggle to begin their life story and are not sure where to start. Depending on your life story, you may reach out to other family members for details on a childhood memory or event. But it’s important that you also focus on your personal experiences and your recollection of a childhood memory or moment, even if it may be flawed. Often, the best memoirs are about the process of remembering an event, or are about processing a moment in the past that felt important.

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Writing down your life story Consider the motivations

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Read examples of memoir. There are several good examples of memoir, some of which are considered classics of the genre: [2]

  • Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov is a highly regarded fiction writer, but one of his most celebrated works is his memoir of his childhood in Russia. The book is a good example of using literary prose and masterful storytelling to share a personal history.
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Didion’s memoir focuses on the sudden death of her husband and the death of her adult daughter a few months later. This is a great example of using memory to inform the present, which for Didion, is colored by extreme grief and a sense of mortality.
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman. This is a graphic novel that uses animals to tell Spiegelman’s childhood memories of being imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Spiegelman’s use of animals in fact makes the memoir feel that much more universal and relatable.
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. Kingston’s memoir of growing up as a Chinese immigrant in California combines myth, legend, and memory. Another good example of using different writing styles or approaches to write about your own life.

Analyze the examples. Choose one to two examples and read through them. Ask yourself several questions:

  • Why did the author choose to highlight certain events in their life in the memoir? Consider why the memoirist chose a certain section of their childhood or a specific life event as the focus of the book. For example, Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking focuses on the recent deaths of her husband and her daughter, while Nabokov’s Speak, Memory focuses on his childhood in Russia. One event is in the recent past while one event is in the very distant past. Yet both events have a very strong, and possibly traumatic, effect on the writers.
  • What were the narrator’s desires in the memoir? What was motivating the narrator to share this particular story with the reader? Often, memoirs can be cathartic for the writer. Perhaps the writer was trying to process a year of grieving and loss, as Didion does in The Year of Magical Thinking. or perhaps the writer was trying to describe a childhood in a concentration camp, as Spiegelman does in his memoir Maus. Consider the motivations of the writer for putting down their story and presenting it to readers.
  • How did the memoir keep the reader engaged and interested in the story? The best memoirs are honest and unflinching, with details or admissions that the writer may be afraid to make. The writer may write in a way that feels truthful, full of moments that may not make the writer look good or conflicted. But readers often respond to vulnerability in a memoir, and a writer who is not afraid to describe their failures along with their successes.
  • Were you satisfied with the ending of the memoir? Why or why not? Unlike an autobiography, a memoir does not need to have a linear beginning, middle, and end. Most memoirs end without any firm conclusions or end of life moments. Instead, memoirs may end with thoughts on a running theme throughout the book, or with reflections on the pivotal event or moment in the writer’s life.

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