23 Jul Believe in your story
Who’s going to be interested in the story of my life? Who cares? I hear that a lot from aspiring writers.
Novelists think their stories are clichéd, another Harry Potter, another Bridget Jones. Memoirists believe they have nothing to say and their lives are boring. Travel writers, well, they’re the worst. Everyone’s been everywhere these days, haven’t we? And if we haven’t, we can travel there with Google Maps.
All of that’s true. And it’s not. You need to keep believing that you have something worth sharing. How you view the world, how your thoughts connect the dots, how you make sense of it. That’s unique to you.
I’ve just been mentoring a writer who’s working on her family memoir. It’s taken her a few runs to become clear what story she is really trying to tell. Now she’s figured it out, she says, ‘It feels so cathartic. It’s like I’ve let go of things I’ve been holding on to since I was a child.’
Another friend told me that she’s been interviewing her 94-year-old mother once a week for the past few months. Her Mum talks, she records the conversations and types them up.
In the process she’s learned a lot about her Mum—a few saucy things, too—and now she’s put something together for her children, and her grandchildren.
How many of you have wished you’d asked your parents or grandparents something, but now it’s too late? This is a compelling reason to write your family story. It doesn’t have to be for publication, you might be doing it for future generations.
But a life is a BIG thing. So where to start?
Here are 10 ways to kickstart your memoir. (If you’re writing fiction, just adapt.)
- Think small. Rather than focusing on the big sweeping events, find the moments that stay with you, that haunt you, that make you smile. Start there.
- Make a list of 10 of these poignant moments and write two pages on each.
- Try not to be too writerly about it. Write as yourself. With your words, your expressions. Find your voice.
- Start with a conversation.
- Or a family saying.
- Or a photograph.
- Or an object. The chipped glass that your father always loved. Your grandmother’s handkerchief.
- Zoom in on vignettes and write them as a short scenes. Then when you’ve written 10 – 20 pieces, jigsaw them together. Is a theme emerging?
- Use the saying, ‘I remember when…’ or ‘My mother always said to me…’
- Look for experiences that are particular to you, but that contain a universal truth. We’ve all known heartbreak. We’ve all experienced the death of a loved one. Is there a story like that which is unique to you, but that would touch us all?
Find it. And share it.