For most of her life, she kept journals. But journals are not the same as a memoir. You can’t just copy sections and string them together to tell your story. Today, she’s going to tell us how to compose and write your own memoir. As she says, each writer has to find the golden thread of his or her life in order to write a memoir.
Welcome Karen Walker.
Finding the Golden Thread in Memoir
Most of you reading this blog are writers—whether you write mystery, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, nonfiction, textbook, travel memoir, or traditional memoir, we face many of the same challenges. I’m not sure fiction writers can apply what I am going to talk about here, but perhaps it’s adaptable. It’s about finding what my first editor, Dina Wolff McQueen called “the golden thread” of the memoir.
A memoir is supposed to be one aspect of one’s life, not a whole life; otherwise it would be an autobiography.
So how do you decide what to include and what to leave out? I’ve blogged about the process I went through in writing my memoir, so I will not repeat it here. You can visit http://tinyurl.com/n6p7sc if you haven’t already. What helped me the most during that journey were the sessions with Dina to find the golden thread. To reconstruct what was a very organic process is
difficult, but here’s the gist of those sessions.
First, write down the top five events in your life that transformed you. Next, write down the top five people who transformed you. Then write a short essay, describing your intention for the book. While you are doing this, identify who your intended audience is.
There are several types of memoirs and each has a purpose and intention.
Here is a partial list:
• Social change
• Adventure snippets
• Making sense of one’s life – putting a life in order. What was my life about? Did I do what I set out to do? Am I on track with who I want to be?
• Help writer process emotions (although this is more journal-writing than memoir)
• Personal perspective on history
• Spirituality – transformational
See if a particular theme emerges as you review your lists of transformative events. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Who am I today as a result of this string of events?
2. What tragedies most impacted me thus far and how has my life been shaped around that?
3. What choices did I make that I approve of? What choices do I regret? What choices didn’t I make that I wish I had?
Create a detailed outline, keeping in mind that each inclusion moves the story forward with the intention you identified when you first started. When you think about including an element, see if it meets the golden thread criteria. In my memoir, Following the Whispers, the golden thread was how most of my life I heard whispers of intuition/wisdom/Spirit, but because of certain events in childhood, I shut down and stopped listening/paying attention. As a result, I made disastrous choices with devastating consequences. Once I began a spiritual journey to heal myself, and began listening to the whispers, my life began to improve.
After identifying the golden thread, it became a simple chore to decide what aspects of my life would go into the memoir and what should be excluded. If it didn’t show either an incident where I was shut down or an incident where I was awake and conscious enough to listen, it wasn’t included.
From the detailed outline, create a story board of the book. On a huge sheet of poster board, create a box for each chapter. Put the title of the chapter at the top and underneath, bullet points for each of the elements that will fall into that chapter. These may shift as you revise, but it is a great way to get a first draft.
Some tips for the next part of the process. Do not censor yourself in your first draft. Write it all. Your goal is to get to the truth of who you are and where you came from. What makes a good memoir is telling the truth. What draws a reader in more than anything is a writer’s willingness to be honest, including secrets that you’ve kept from yourself, those incidents where you were embarrassed, or something you’re not proud of, moments that made you reflect a great deal and probably caused you to make changes.
“If you tell the truth from a place of power, you will be changed,” Dina said to me.
She was right. Writing my memoir did change me. When it was finally published, and I stepped up to the podium at my book launch and held up that book, I felt as if I had stepped into the person I’ve been trying to become for 31 years. That’s power.
Thank you Karen!
Before I open this up for any comments or questions you may have for Karen, let me tell you that Following the Whispers is available from Amazon, B&N, or on her website. Plus, you can also follow Karen on her blog.
And now the Comments section is open.