It can be challenging to talk to your parents about their lives, but sometimes you need that information to make your story work. Even talking to them about your life as a child can feel overwhelming. I Lived This author Christina Atkins has talked to her […]
Great news! I Lived This is the winner of a 2017 Independent Press Award for its interior design. We love this news. We worked hard on the inner pages of the book, so they would be just as engaging and compelling as the cover. Particular kudos […]
Here’s a list of writing prompts that can jog your memory about important events you’ve been through. Set a timer for fifteen minutes and write about one of the prompts. Don’t self-edit while you’re writing, just let the words come out! Work through the prompts one-by-one and you may find what you want as the topic of your memoir!
What was the most impactful moment in your life? Where were you and what were you doing? Take yourself back to that moment. How did you feel? Why did you feel that way?
Who is a person that’s had a great impact on you? Describe them. Why did they have an impact on you? Who were they to you? What did they tell you or do for you?
What’s one place that you will never forget? Where is it? Take yourself there (physically, if you have the chance). What does it smell like? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What do you remember happening here? Why is this place so important to you?
What is your passion? What could you talk about for hours without stopping? Describe it. Describe all important events that led to you having this passion. What specific details do you remember about these events? Why is this your passion?
You might have found that these questions prompted more questions for you, and that’s okay! If one prompt really piqued your interest, try spending a bit more time with it. It may be beneficial to work through the prompts with someone you trust, or to talk to someone about your life experiences as you write. Keep working with whatever prompt interested you until you’ve found a focus for your memoir.
If you found the focus for your memoir working through these prompts, it’s time to get organized and get writing!
You can easily confuse the memoir and autobiography genres. After all, they’re both written by you and about your life! While they may be similar in nature, the two feature a few key differences that will help you differentiate them. The Subject Do you want […]
You’ve experienced many different places in your life. Some of those places you probably struggle to remember in their entirety. What did the park where you had your first date look like? What color were the walls in your favorite restaurant? One way you can […]
Your life has been full of experiences, some amazing and some devastating. Now, as you’re writing your memoir, you’ve probably questioned what experiences you want to include in it. You’re writing your life story, undoubtedly there are things that you feel are too private to share.
However, sharing your private experiences in a more public setting—even if it is family or close friends who read your memoir—can be a liberating experience for many reasons.
Sharing private events gives you the space to process them
This seems very straightforward, and that’s because it is! Is there a particular event or interaction that you’ve been circling around but not writing? Writing through this in your life story can help you to understand and process how the event or interaction affected you. If you aren’t sure that it’ll fit in your memoir, write it anyway. You may find it fits perfectly.
It gives others insight into what they’re going through
If you’ve experienced something, chances are very high that someone else has experienced something very similar. You are not the only person with an experience like yours, no matter how amazing or heart-wrenching it may be. Telling your story allows others to learn from it. In putting yourself out into the world, you are helping other people. Telling the truth about events and interactions you’ve deemed private can help another person work through a similar situation.
You have nothing to lose
When you’re writing about things that have happened to you personally, your internal critic starts to get loud. Worrying about how people will perceive your stories is fruitless, because you won’t know if you don’t write them. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” If your answer is that your experiences will start a war, maybe you should take a second to listen to that internal critic. But, if your answer is anything like “my friends will judge me,” or “too many people will know about my life,” then it might be time to tell your internal critic to stand down.
This is your life, and this is your life story. Tell the truth to the degree that you want to. You’re trying to leave an impact, it’s okay to talk about private things in order to do so.
You’ve probably heard of the concept “show, don’t tell.” This concept demands the use of descriptive language in writing. Instead of telling your readers what happened, show them by painting the scene in such a way that they feel as though they’re inside it. Below […]
We’re interviewing people to get their real-life, crazy-but-true stories. Here’s Kris Evins, interviewed by Christina Atkins. Was there a moment or experience that really sparked your decision to write down your life story? During the mid-90’s, my friend and I had a local music ‘zine […]
Every life story is unique, but some of the mistakes we make while writing our stories are universal. We’ve gathered a few things to avoid while working on your memoir. These aren’t necessarily “rules,” but rather strong suggestions to take into consideration while you’re working through the writing process.
Don’t just work with the facts
Your life story is just that: a story. Your memoir should read as more than just facts. There should be descriptive imagery, a theme, details that draw the reader into your story. When you work only with the facts, you run the risk of your memoir being kind of boring, which your life has definitely not been! Do your life story justice and write it in a way that speaks to what actually happened. Include all the details you can. You want to really put your writer in your shoes and allow them to experience your life as you did.
Don’t get hung up in the backstory (or someone else’s story)
This seems obvious, but think about it. How many times have you been told a story that included far too much backstory of one of the participants involved? Is it actually important to your life story that your sister lived in Taiwan for ten years, and why do you need to include that level of detail? We say this a lot: think about the message you want to deliver, the reason you’re telling your story in the first place, and stick to the events — and people — that actually contribute to your theme.
That’s not to say you can’t include great anecdotes or funny moments. Just don’t worry about explaining things that aren’t as important to you and your own life. This is about you, after all.
There are things you just may not feel comfortable telling the world, and that’s okay. If you feel like you can’t write about something and be okay with others reading it, it’s perfectly fine to omit it. However, lying about experiences to make them seem softer (or alternatively, making them more interesting) is something to avoid. Not only does it prevent you from actually telling your life story, but it prevents you from being authentic with your readers.
Ultimately, your goal is to tell the truth, more or less, about the fascinating things that have happened in your life, and what you learned from them that you want to share. When you do that, you create a powerful memoir that can affect your readers’ lives.
Do you think you’re a bad writer? Most writers do when they start to write something. In fact, it’s likely a safe to say that all writers have, at one point in time or another, really disliked their written work. So how do you get […]
It can be challenging to find your voice as a writer. How can you be authentically you, and not sound awkward or stiff? There are lots of great ways to figure out what your voice sounds like, and we’ve gathered a few of them here. […]
What time period in your life was most important to you? If you can remember events in the order they happened, organizing your memoir chronologically may be for you. Writing chronologically doesn’t necessarily need to start with your birth, you just to make sure you’re writing the events in order from start to finish.
Pick specific time periods for chapters to begin and end
If you’re writing chronologically, you want to know when to switch to a different time in your life. Maybe you had a lot of experiences in your childhood, and you want to break that time period into multiple different chapters so you can really focus on the experiences. Maybe your time is better marked by seasons, and you want to break your memoir into seasons. This is completely your choice!
Avoid the backstory
This seems intuitive, but it can be hard. If you know where the story starts, try not to “set the scene” with a long backstory. Just start at your chosen beginning point, and keep moving forward through time. You’ll find that you can still tell the story without all that added context — in most cases. If your story really doesn’t make sense without some details from the past, then just keep your backstory limited to the essentials. Or, consider starting from an earlier point.
Choose a natural ending
Similar to the above, your memoir can end whenever you’d like it to. If you want to write all the way to your current age, that’s your end. If you want your memoir to only go for so long, pick a different end. This is your story, whenever you want it to end is your choice.
Think through your memories
Before you start writing, think about when things happened. Organizing your memories before you begin can help you to continue writing without having to stop and think about what happened next. If you’re having a hard time remembering when things happened, see if you can talk to your family or jog your memory through different exercises.
Chronological writing can be helpful if you don’t know where you want to go with your memoir. As you continue to write, you’ll find some pieces fit together better than others. Tell the parts of your story that matter to you.