Writing my first memoir was one of the hardest experiences I have ever had as a writer. We all have the passion to tell the world our own personal stories, however, the process is a nail-biter. It slowly becomes crystal clear as you write that memoir, there is so much to tell, and you think the words faster than your hands will type. You can’t spit it out fast enough.
When the idea of writing a book hits your brain, you must write the ideas down immediately. A list will do but capture it quickly. Understand there is traditional publishing and self-publishing. After working in academia for many years, I often noticed frowns if I ever mentioned self-publishing. The way the world is today, don’t bet your savings account that Oprah knows your phone number, so it is a good idea to get your work out there however you can. When I realized my memoir was so unusual and I could not afford a publishing company to represent me, any negative thoughts of self-publishing vanished. And that is how I began.
The path to self-publication can be daunting. It is imperative to study all the ethical implications of publishing. Read many authors’ stories and styles that compare to yours. For me, a memoir was a no-brainer and I read as many styles of memoir as possible, made copious notes and understood the mechanics of this type of writing. Invest in step-by-step guides on how to write a book. Edit, edit, and edit until your eyes roll in the back of your head. Painful but necessary. Nothing is instant here other than the ideas burning inside your head. Remember: that opening sentence is like the birth of a baby. Once it slides out, it is your creation to the world.
When writing my memoir, I trimmed the fat off the material and needed to write the most important snippets of my life. Emotional memories, no matter how ugly, and turning points are key. Make a list. If they are very painful, they are easy to forget. Use dialogue to recreate scenes, don’t be skimpy, dialogue makes the book very authentic. You will be busting at the seams to mention everyone in your life. Don’t go there, focus on only those involved in your story. You don’t have to mention the mailman or waitress at the diner unless they play an important part. You want the reader to know the real you, therefore honesty and authenticity is key. It’s like appearing nude in front of strangers and requires huge courage to put yourself out there.
As I wrote my memoir, it became important to reveal places in a way that the reader would capture sensory details of my hometown New Orleans. I wanted to refer to the food and the smells of sweet olives and magnolias. If you get up close and personal with your details your story will be pushed deeper.
“New Orleans had a mystical scent to match the trees. Sweet olive here, there, and everywhere meshed with the lemony aroma of magnolias – Nature’s brew.” Add the textures of the clothes the characters are wearing, describe the food in detail that the waiter brought to the table, or was the house painted cobalt blue? “An older, heavy-set woman with jet black hair from a bottle and clothed in a floral, black and red polyester pantsuit appeared.”
Writing my memoir, naming names of people was so important. It gave them life, so the reader becomes familiar with the characters and wants the story to continue. I would often use a first and last name for authenticity and to draw the audience into being curious about who the people were in my life. Pick an age for the characters and yourself as the story unfolds. I wanted to give as much detail as possible to the readers. List stores or houses of people you knew, memoirs need to be very personal in nature.
Throw in as much dialogue as possible to your characters. It is hard work to layer and give a voice to your characters. It takes time for your mind to go back in time and remember exactly how you felt during your experiences. I recall using my inner child voice was difficult due to family toxicity. I had to be the unhappy child. The more I focused on events during my childhood, my voice became that eight-year-old child again. This was challenging.
My memoir was intentionally purely personal. My aim was to support those in toxic family situations, so I had to be pure and honest, no matter how private. “In the words of my mother, live your life as if you are bathed in chocolate eclairs!” As a memoir writer, I may not have had eclairs but I did have almond sugar cookies.