All writers deserve the chance to share their stories, whether they be stories born of imagination, research, or personal experience. Koehler Books has published many memoirs and biographies, and while there’s a lot of advice out there for every genre, this article by Will Boast helpfully boils down his memoir-writing experience to several salient points.
5 Tips for Writing a Memoir
From Publishersweekly.com, by Will Boast
As I suspect many writers do, I took the long way round to writing a memoir. It took me nearly three years of trying to cram my subject matter into a novel manuscript before I understood that the story I wanted to tell would fit better into nonfiction. When I finally I came to the memoir form, I had only a vague notion of how such a book might be put together. It took me another five years to finish the manuscript that became Epilogue. As provisional and context-specific as they may be, here are a few lessons I learned along the way:
1. If fiction is the art of invention, memoir is the art of selection and arrangement.
For whatever reasons, many readers and writers believe that writing a memoir is easier than writing a novel. It’s all happened already, the thinking seems to go, so all you have to do is put it on the page. If only! As I once heard Joyce Carol Oates remark, beginning a memoir is like having a dump truck pull up beside you and tip a couple tons of garbage on your head. Writing about your own life or family, everything suddenly seems relevant, from the most dramatic events to the smallest ephemera. I know I’m not the only writer to have drafted hundreds more pages than I needed, writing out whole episodes—many of them revealing, earth-shaking, of the utmost vital importance, etc.—that I would eventually just cut, realizing that they didn’t add to the narrative emerging from the morass of pages I was accumulating. I think it took me a year, at least, before I stopped suffocating under all the stuff that goes into memoir and started to find, among the debris, the struts and beams that would form the structure of a story.