All writers make themselves vulnerable when writing. That's what makes us unique in the world where most individuals hide behind social masks. Writers by nature know how to open our hearts and say, "this is me."
Memoirists take it to another level of transparency by telling the no-holding-back account of their real lives. The art in doing this is to make it relatable to their audience with emotional hooks that draw a reader in so they feel they are relating to the author's journey. To create such an emotional hook in nonfiction is easy if you're willing to truly become vulnerable to the process.
You see, everyone has a story--but we writers have the ability to tell it that we often take for granted. Writing is easy for us so we may shrug and dust off the idea that being able to express ourselves in this way is ordinary. It's not. If you feel you have a story inside you that others could relate to and are brave enough to put it into words for the world to read, then don't hold back because you think, "I'm not unique, everyone has a story to tell". There are people out there in the world who may share your struggle and aren't writers, who crave the knowledge that they aren't alone or seek inspiration that they can do what you've done. So, yes, in reality everyone does have a story tell, but can they?
I've written a memoir, which was a painful process. I think I cried over every word as I typed. I pushed through to the end, though, not because I felt I was special--but because I never wanted anyone out there in the big bad world to ever feel as alone as I did. I've received countless emails from all over the globe from others who shared a similar journey and thanked me for letting them know that their experience was "normal" for the situation.
Below are steps to writing a memoir that are born out of experience, but in no way should be construed as "rules", only as guidelines to help you get started.
- Use journals if you have them. Before I began, I brought out all of the journals I'd written during the time. I read them all, cover to cover, to make sure the content was fresh in my mind. This wasn't easy, but it was necessary to remind myself of the facts.
- Before you begin, write yourself an intention statement. This is for you alone at first, but later can be tweaked to form into a query or back cover copy. Before you write one word of your memoir, sit quietly and think about why you're doing this. What is the point you want to get across? What is your message? Why are you willing to go out on a limb? Scribble it all down, whatever thoughts come to mind. Imagine yourself sitting across from Oprah and she says to you, "Why did you write this amazing memoir?" What's your answer? You need to know this before you begin. After you write your initial thoughts, streamline it down to one clear sentence that can be your mission statement that all of your chapters support.
- Outlining. As a fiction writer, I don't outline. As a nonfiction author, I do. With nonfiction, it is important to have a carefully laid out blueprint of what it is you intend to say in each chapter. This way you stay focused and clear.
- Start where you want to start--where you feel it's necessary for readers to understand the purpose of your book.
- Beware of backstory. If you feel it's necessary to have a build up to where the nut and bolts of your story begins, then take time to figure out if you're truly beginning where you need to be. If so and you still want the long backstory, whittle it down to snippets rather than pages. Work it into conversations if you can. Make it flow. Memoirs, just like novels, need to flow well to be read well. Too much backstory is a speed bump. Keep that in mind.
- Don't hold back. If you screwed up, say so. If it's painful, let the reader feel your pain. If it's funny as hell, make us laugh out loud. How do you do this? By removing your filters. Memoirs more than any other genre of literature need to be ripe with honesty--the good, the bad, the ugly, the hilarious, the poignant--we want to feel everything you've felt. This can only be achieved if you do not censor yourself while writing.
- Don't include the mundane. No, that's not censoring--it's keeping your focus. I don't care if you washed your car or what you ate for breakfast unless it directly affects the story. Look at your outline. Every single word you write needs to be in line with both your mission statement and the outline you've created. No one cares about anything else. Just because it's a memoir doesn't mean we need to know the meaningless details.
- Just like you need to start in an appropriate spot, you also need to know when to end. Yes, you're still alive so technically the memoir could go on and on--don't let it. If you've delivered your message, then you're done. Write "the end" and move on.
- Hooks. Craft beginnings and endings of chapters to include emotional hooks that keep the readers turning the page. This should be easy for you to do because, if you're passionate enough to be opening your life for the world to see, I'm confident you can come up with emotional hooks.
- No, you don't need to be famous to write a memoir. I wrote one that ended up being named 4th on the "10 Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list and hit both national and international bestseller lists. I'm just a writer who lives in the mountains with my dogs. I'm just like you. I read a memoir by a lady who moved with her husband to Costa Rica called, "Happier than a Billionaire." She's not famous, but she wrote a damn good book. People will tell you "you're not famous, who cares?" Believe me, someone out there will care. Write your book.
I hope that helps.
Amber Lea Easton
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of nonfiction, thrillers, and romantic suspense. A professional editor and freelance journalist for nearly two decades, she created Mountain Moxie Publishing Services to assist authors in mastering the writing craft. Her memoir, Free Fall, is dedicated to spreading suicide awareness, has topped international best selling charts, and has been named by Dr. Prem as fourth on the "Ten Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list. Easton is also a speaker regarding parenting through trauma and suicide awareness. To discover more about Mountain Moxie Publishing Services, please go to http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com. For a list of all of Easton's books, articles and interviews, go to http://www.amberleaeaston.com.