Memoir Writing: Time and Angst Savers
“You did it! I knew you wanted to do this for a long time. So many people are dreamin’ forever about writing their memoir, never get started, or have it unfinished in their computer for years. You did it!”
She was beaming. We sat down across from each other at our neighborhood coffee shop, a reunion of a dear friend from a long-ago writing group.
On the table was a fresh copy of my memoir Brain Dance, released May 2021, an Amazon number one bestseller. She brought it for me to sign. I felt shy and humbled.
After our conversation, I reflected on all that helped move this project along from my own mistakes to expert advice. Here are some of my favorite tips.
At first, I was afraid of reading other people’s memoirs. I didn’t want to feel like I was somehow going to copy another writer’s words or fill my head with a story that wasn’t mine. But, that didn’t happen. Instead, a stunning memoir like Educated by Tara Westover, committed me to the goal of emulating something else — her courage. I strived to be honest in sharing the raw, awkward, embarrassing, sad, funny, and beautiful parts of my life. I believe that’s what allows others to enter it, connect with me as a person and to the larger story. There are details of Tara’s story I cannot forget, even if I tried.
Honor Your Truth
In an early draft, an editor suggested I exaggerate certain details to make them fit into a narrative that wasn’t quite my story. I said “no” and found another editor. I knew misrepresenting my story would stop the flow of ideas and be confusing to me.
Write for yourself, don’t even think about friends and family. Was it comfortable to own that I suffered from depression when sidelined after the injury? No. That I didn’t know my brain wasn’t functioning at 100% until seven months after the accident and that I gained lots of weight? Nope, but it’s my truth.
My story details became more objective and less painful and some of it became funny in the process – a welcome benefit.
We all have our own reasons why we want to share our stories. The best advice I received was to be honest with myself about what that was – be it money, fame, helping others. Digging into this will reveal the mission. For example, here are reasons I wanted to share my story:
- To help people. After the accident, I had a confusing path to a full recovery. I want to help people discover a smoother path to healing
- To share the experience of brain injury and recovery with parents, teachers, caretakers, doctors, medical students.
- To let readers laugh, learn, and be excited and proud to know so much more about how this magnificent brain influences who we are.
- To encourage people to give others second chances in life and to never look at someone experiencing homelessness, in prison, or on drugs in the same way again. Ever.
- To have readers understand the brain training done by elite athletes, successful executives, and other high stress/high performing people. Peak performance doesn’t just happen, brain training can change everything.
The overall mission of Brain Dance is to increase brain health and awareness. This is a powerful motivator to me.
Listing the reasons for writing your memoir can help you find your mission. If you’re still not clear, articulating the reasons will be fortifying. Your reasons may change across time but remind yourself of what you know. Then, be sure to talk about your mission with others, give it power. Allow it to galvanize your efforts of writing and later promotional activities.
Writing a memoir is not for the faint of heart, but when we center on our “why,” write our truth as we best know it, we will succeed. Writing your memoir may become one of the most satisfying things you ever do.
Best wishes for your journey.