Wednesday, January 09, 2013

How Do You Write a Memoir?

How to give good memoir (otherwise known as Top tips for memoir writing.)
*get a life. You cannot write a memoir unless you live an interesting life. Live it. Live it the best way you can. Try to fit the writing around it. If you spend all your time writing about your life, life will be dull and your writing will be duller.
*find yourself fascinating. This one is hard because - best will in the world - the kind of people who find themselves fascinating tend to be the kind of people you don't want to be around. Nonetheless you have to overcome your scruples and find yourself interesting enough to write about, and talk about when someone asks you what you are writing about. And not mind when they sidle away really fast.
*find everyone else fascinating too. This is not as hard as finding yourself interesting because everybody has a story. The trick is to be interested enough to find out what it is. Don't judge someone. Get to know what they have to say - it is very probably worth hearing.
*having said "get a life" sometimes it is all in the writing. Don't presume because you are writing about something that has happened a gazillion times before that you can just knock it off without thinking about the words and how they fit together. Words count - who knew?
*it isn't necessarily about the outside that is to say, what you do, it is also about what and how you think, and ofcourse - everytime - about how you feel. A memoir is not a book of events.
*remember a memoir is about Life, not just your life, real life.
*unless you are willing to be honest and reveal who you are, you might as well write a novel.(Obviously you can also be honest and reveal who you are in a novel, there is just an outside chance you won't have to.)
*if you care too much about what people think, you might as well not write at all.


lettice leaf said...

I do try not to worry about what people think and to remind myself I'm blogging for me. It is hard, blooming hard not to care; I suppose it's a form of cyber flashing. when the dread outweighs the joy I'll stop.


Claire said...

How timely that I should have read your post this morning.
I sat down last night ( well 2.30 am actually ) to write an essay for an English course I'm doing with the given title Me , Myself, I ( not my choice but the exam board AQA's). I suppose that amounts to a spot of memoir writing. What I thought would easily trip off the tongue in under 20 minutes took forever . Typical of me to over-analyse everything of course . My biggest hang-up in writing the anecdote I chose was that it sounded so big-headed. I suppose I could have chosen a humbler story but the I wanted to write about needed to be written so I couldn't agree more with your last point about not caring what people think about what you've written.
The other unexpected hurdle was the fact that I had to write it using pen and paper which made me realise that blogging has made my handwriting virtually redundant.
I read on your blog that you'd attended BlogFest - if only I'd known , I'd have made a point of saying hello It was because of you that I got into blogging in the first place ... and I also need to know if you've found where to buy those stretchy wraparound tunic things that you noted everyone was wearing at Blogfest and if you have please tell me where .

wife in the north said...

re lettice leaf:requires an effort of will I know not to care. Blogging is a very particular form of writing that requires a very particular mindsetsometimes.
*u r publishing but u r doing it for urself.
*u r quite possibly writing about ur personal life, leaving u vulnerable to nutters and critical voices.
*it should have the feel of something quick and easy when possibly it has not come quickly or easily to you
*u have no second voice or friendly editor to warn or advise
*u engage in an immediate and close-up way with ur readers. I could go on you know.

wife in the north said...

re claire:re blogfest. I suspect many of them were Issa (is it Issa or Issy, I don't know but they are gorgeous and very pricey.)
r u blogging ur piece of writing? I would be very interested to read it. If you felt it needed telling, then I suspect it is a very good piece. I think the voice which whispers "golly this is going to come across as so big-headed" has to be ignored (i just wrote a book about doing 365 good deeds remember, not because i wanted to shout "Look at how good i am" but because it was a way of exploring who I was and who I was trying to be.) Re pen and paper. I wonder if you wrote it differently???

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

I have been thinking I want to read your book and came here without realising that the blog and the book are by the same person. Serendipity eh? I agree absolutely about the balance between finding yourself and others fascinating and I don't think I have found it yet!

Jenny said...

Brilliant! Delighted to discover your blog today thanks to Penguin books!
I am about to begin blogging to help develop my writing style and also to help me procure the elusive discipline of putting something down on paper/screen every day.You have encouraged me to press 'Post'. Thank you!

Claire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Claire said...

Oops , just had to delete my comment above as I re-read it ( after posting) and it was riddled with typos. Corrected version below .

Thanks Judith - I've bitten the bullet and posted the piece of writing onto my blog ( Another Year, Another Blog ) I guess you can link to it via this comment ? There may be 2 blogs listed under my name - the other one is redundant and rather optimistically called "I'm writing a Book' ... one of these days.

I've just re-read it and it sounds so hideously pompous and verbose - reading back your own writing is even worse than listening to your own message on an answer machine - guaranteed to make me squirm.

A little bit of background to the anecdote - I was working in a senior position at a TV Company at the time - for the Chief Exec as it happens , where women were thin on the ground .

I have 101 tales like this , most of them pretty unbelievable . I recall at one particular event ( one of those hideous weekends spent at an overpriced Country House Hotel, where senior executives gathered to do what they called blue-sky thinking ) . I was shown the seating plan for dinner. Being female they must have assumed I'd be interested in such domestic trivia . As usual the men outnumbered the women , in fact there were about 50 men and just 4 of us women. At each of the 4 dinner tables , the men were identified by their full names, whereas the women ( of whom I was one ) were simply noted as CT. As there were so few of us we had been spread thinly - one per table. When I asked what CT stood for I was told , without a hint of irony, that this stood for Corporate Totty . I still gasp at the thought of it today .