How to write your memoirs

pen and ink


A little while ago one of our readers asked me to submit a simple piece on writing memoirs. So after a little bit of hunting, I came across a fantastic short book at Springwood Library. It’s called, ‘The Method: a writer’s handbook’ by Lowell Tarling. The book is less than a hundred pages long with simple and very helpful suggestions on the writing craft and includes a couple of pages on the art of memoir writing.

According Lowell, writing your memoirs is relatively easy in the sense that unlike fiction, you already know your story inside out. So it saves you on the stress of figuring out your plot and developing your characters.

Lowell also brings out seven handy tips in organising your memoirs.

  1. Tape yourself with someone present. Tell your story on tape (or in this day and age, on a digital recording device). “It will bring natural clarity to your words,” states Lowell. “The simple presence of someone who has to comprehend it all will focus you in a way that can never be captured without a listening audience.”
  2. Get it transcribed. “Hire a local editorial service to transcribe [your recordings],” states Lowell. Or even do it yourself. Just keep in mind that it takes a lot of time to transcribe even just a one hour recording. Hiring a professional will not only ensure the transcription is nice and tidy, it will also contain accurate spelling and grammar.
  3. Write a table of contents. “Open a file for each chapter,” states Lowell. “Chop the transcription into its natural sections and drop them into their respective chapter files.
  4. Cut and Paste. Put everything into chronical order.
  5. Research. “Do the necessary research,” states Lowell. “Checking diaries, business records, correspondence, paperwork, magazine articles etc. Inject that research into this stage of the text.”
  6. The first edit. “Smooth the document through from start to finish.”
  7. Get another person to read it. “All memoirs usually have a strong element of self-justification,” states Lowell. “Their worst characteristic is a tendency to punish enemies and glorify friends. People may forgive you for writing glowing character references for all your friends. However, they will not forgive spite, jealousy, conceit, lies nor a revelation of other people’s secrets. This is why you need a second opinion on the delicate issue of tone. You must pitch it right, to stop yourself looking like an egomaniac.”

If you find yourself interested in getting it published professionally then, unless it is an extremely well written memoir, you will find that publishers tend to be more interested in the stories of well-known people. Most memoirs, however, have a smaller target audience containing just family and close friends. It’s not hard these days to find a printing press that will happily print several copies of your memoir for a fee. Be sure to do your research though.

Happy Writing!


Source: The Method: a writer’s handbook by Lowell Tarling


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