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On the writing of memoirs, Part 2

In my last posting to this blog, I told you a few of the things you shouldn’t do in writing memoirs. Now let me suggest some things you should do.

First, start writing. Even if you don’t know what to write about, start writing. Write, and write, and write some more. You may trash a lot of it later, but for now, get into the habit of writing.

Second, get an overview of your life. I suggest using a roll of shelf paper, or something like it. Stretch it out. Mark significant dates on it. Graduations, jobs, children, deaths. Make notes of what you gained, and what you had to give up, at each of these events.

Third, start writing. Pick any date, any event, and get it down on paper. (Or disk. Or whatever you save it on.) Don’t just think about it; get it into words. Include all the details you can remember. If there are too many, you can always take them out later; if there are too few, no one else can ever add them. You don’t have to write a memoir in order. If a mid-life event is on the top of your mind, write about it. You can put things into order later.

And remember that the order doesn’t have to be chronological. You might choose to explore your professional life in one set of chapters; your hobbies in another; your family life and relationships in a third.

This is your story; you can decide how to tell it.

Fourth, read. Read other people’s memoirs and autobiographies. Note what interests you, and what upsets you. Does he meander off into conspiracy theories? Does she use her pages to re-fight old battles? Does he admit mistakes? Does she always have to be right? Imitate the parts that appeal to you; avoid doing the things that bug you in someone else’s writing.

If other people’s memoirs don’t interest you, why are you writing your own?

Fifth, make your computer (or pad of paper) your best friend. Confess to it the experiences, the feelings, that you would otherwise tell only a closest friend. And maybe not even them. Besides, as you grow older, fewer of that kind of friend will be alive anyway. But your computer will never tire of you, will never have something better to do.

Finally, when you have most of your memories written, set your memoir aside for a while. Do something else. Get your mind into a different space. Then come back to the memoir. Read it with fresh eyes. Take out the fluff; supplement the living stuff. Move pieces around until the whole memoir feels right.

Then deliver copies to your intended audience. And wait for their reaction.

By Jim Taylor


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