Publication: Lily Magazine
If you dream of emulating Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love success, you’re in luck. Memoirs are one of the most popular genres in writing right now, so it makes sense to go where the readers are.
Memoir or another version of your life
But where do you start when it comes to writing your life story? Before you sit down with your journal, typewriter or laptop you need to think about why you want to write that story. Memoirs might be hot right now, but do you want to craft your story around something that changed your life, or would you prefer to work more chronologically and write an autobiography? Alternatively you might be documenting your family history and writing about your part in that. Or do you want to get everything you remember clearly down now so you don’t forget, or write your story to pass on to your children and grandchildren? The why will determine how your story is written, so start there first.
How to start writing
Now it’s time to sink your teeth into the business of writing by getting that story out of your head and on to paper (or the screen). A good way to start the writing process is by mapping out the memories or significant events you want to include and then filling in the detail through your writing. You might want to do this on a big sheet of paper and have it on the wall in the room where you write. Alternatively, you might jot these points down on a list in your favourite notepad, or use a mind map. Whatever method works for you, plotting the key points of your narrative will give your writing structure and help push you along when you feel you’re struggling with words.
Beginning, middle or end?
Although you’re writing about your life, it is best not to start at the beginning and end with what is going on now. Start with something significant that happened in your life, which points to why you are who you are, or helped to pave your life’s path. This event, and how you felt about it, will instantly connect your reader with your story and have them reading on to find out how it happened and what transpired afterwards.
There are some other rules to keep in mind when it comes to documenting your life story:
- Include events happening around the time you’re writing about, such as significant historical events that ground your reader in the period
- Take your reader on a journey with your story by sharing your lesson, showing how you grew as a person, or making them laugh
- Be honest by allowing your failings and the darker side of your personality to come through. It shows you’re human, makes you a more rounded person and someone the reader is more likely to connect with.
- Include everything that happened in your life; just include the highlights
- Publish anything defamatory. If you think there’s too many grey areas around someone you’re writing about ask them to read the section they’re included in, and/or have your manuscript checked by a solicitor
- Worry about getting your spelling and grammar correct at the beginning; that’s what editing is for. Follow your structure and write what’s in your mind. Edit afterwards.
- And speaking of editing, you’ll be surprised how much you’re willing to chop out once you read it in the context of your entire manuscript. Be prepared for the fact that some of your words won’t make the final cut. My PhD supervisor calls it “killing your darlings”.
Whether the reason for writing your life story is because you want to see your name on the cover of a book, or you just want something that shows your footprints in words, make sure you enjoy the process. It’s your life, so there’s bound to be a few tears shed and many laughs had, but you owe it to yourself to share the best version of your story that you can.