After writing the fourth draft of my memoir, I reread my work without cringing. Since we are multidimensional beings who experience the past, present, and future while we write, bitter memories rear their heads. Yet, by the final draft, we can make peace with those dragons while still writing what’s true to our hearts.
Not all memoir writing revolves around painful topics. Anyone writing a food or travel memoir for instance, isn’t going to dredge up painful encounters from childhood or even recent years. However, if you find yourself writing about a time in your life you found insufferable, but ultimately cathartic, more likely than not, you’ll write several drafts before you remove the sting from your work. Believe it or not, when I wrote my first two drafts, I leaned towards vengeance and rants about my community. By the fourth draft, I turned the mirror towards myself and balanced others’ shortcomings with my own.
I chose to write my memoir soon after experiencing the events in it. I did this because I wanted to write the scenarios while they were still fresh in my mind. The downside was that my raw emotions stood in the way of compassion and forgiveness. While I wrote about recent events, related childhood memories surfaced acting like vinegar to my wounds. No one would stick thorns or stinging nettles in a wound, but metaphorically, I tortured myself and wondered why I kept procrastinating with my writing. Granted, the first drafts were awful and as a critic, I would ask the author to stop complaining and write a universal story. However, I believe that writing a memoir is more therapeutic than writing in a private journal.
Here is a list of things to remember while writing a memoir:
- No one is perfect and we’re all doing the best that we can.
- Life challenges occur to give us new skills and understanding
- With each life experience (pleasant or insufferable), we grow and expand
- While our stories seem unique to us, other people have similar experiences
- Ask yourself if you were a reader of your book, “Would I want to read this?”
- Don’t barrage your readers with complaints, bitterness, hatred, and self-righteous prose
- Balance truth with compassion (Does the text move the story forward or is it just a rant?)
- Don’t write out of vengeance just because the pen is mightier than the sword
- Don’t write anything that will severe relations or that you’ll regret later
- Write several drafts then allow those closest to you to read your work (ask for honest opinions)
- Read your work out loud or record it, then listen to the tone of your voice (is it scathing, hostile, bitter?)
- Allow your writing to bring up old wounds to heal and release
- Always keep in mind the people who will read your book
- If writing the memoir feels self-indulgent, refrain from publishing it (rewrite it)
I once scoffed at most memoirs and I had no plans of ever writing one. In fact, my next project was my fifth novel and then when I went through an excruciating three months looking for a new home, I thought of writing a memoir about my experiences. My mission for writing the memoir revolves around healing myself, my community, and teaching about the Law of Attraction used during dire circumstances. However, only after writing several drafts have I reached a peaceful place. I’m normally an impulsive and reactive person so I sat on my hands and practiced patience with myself. Besides, for me, this has acted as a learning experience.
I’m currently looking for beta readers to give my manuscript a read-through. I’m concerned about the voice and narrative flow. I also want to know if the story is engaging or if it requires more work. If you are an author with experience writing memoirs and have time in April to do a read-through, contact me at patriciacrowherlevi at gmail also check out my critiquing gig for short fiction and essays on fiverr.com