Shelley Widhalm

Memoir Writing (or Artistically Telling Your Story)

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 16, 2012 at 11:00 am

Writing a memoir, if it’s about something painful from the past, is like doing a handstand.

There’s reliving what had happened, trying to remember what the conscious mind has forgotten and hoping to make sense of it all.

But once you flip upside down, or see your world from a new view, there is the relief that comes from healing, if only a little, and letting go.

I wrote my memoir, “Michele’s Pearl,” about growing up with learning disabilities, shy and scared of the world, but I didn’t dig deep enough into my subconscious. I had forgotten a lot of my story, so I will be rewriting the memoir, or basically starting over after setting it aside for four years.

A memoir takes the writer on an autobiographical journey, but is not like a biography from birth to now. It typically follows a particular theme or subject with a couple of subplots, focusing on the part of the writer’s past that has universal appeal.

The subject can be transformational or inspirational, coming of age or overcoming a hardship. What in the writer’s life was difficult to work through and gave insight? What had some kind of emotional impact, so that readers care?

Find the theme by looking for any underlying patterns, behaviors or ways of approaching the world. Or identify what changed you, hurt you or caused you to feel, whether it was rage or sadness.

The best memoirs, in my opinion, follow a story arc or compile several short stories with a related theme.

To write a memoir, start from a riveting point in your story employing the elements of fiction, such as plot, character, setting and dialogue. Show your personality as your write, using an identifiable narrative voice. Give some resolution of the theme, so that the reader knows why you had to tell your story.

When writing a memoir, here’s some advice I find to be helpful:

  • Organize a timeline, identifying the big moments, events and turning points in your life that relate to the theme or subject. Select out and compress what you will tell.
  • Realize there may be memory gaps, but don’t fabricate what happened. Instead, remember what you can as accurately as you can. Memories can differ for those involved, so you could interview them and compare notes to come to some kind of truth.
  • Be honest and truthful, avoiding holding back a truth or the reader will detect the omission. Tell how you feel about what happened and how you changed because of it.
  • Get some distance from the painful situation and write from a position of healing. Don’t write right after the situation occurred, because insight likely will be lacking.

Finally, remember that reliving trauma or something negative from the past requires forgiveness and acceptance of the self and others.

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  1. Good info here. would love to read Michele’s Pearls’ sometime.

  2. […] Memoir Writing (or Artistically Telling Your Story) […]

  3. […] Memoir Writing (or Artistically Telling Your Story) (shelleywidhalm.wordpress.com) […]

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