Preparing to Write Your Memoir

Because of the nature and style of memoir writing, which can be similar to fiction, you might be tempted to deviate from adhering to the facts or think that you can rely solely on your memory. However, remember that you are still writing nonfiction, so you still have an obligation to abide by the truth. This will be explored more thoroughly in Chapter 20 where the ethics of writing nonfiction will be reviewed.

Since you need to be scrupulous in the accuracy of your material, you need to do more than ponder your past or dwell on reminiscences. Fortunately, there are a number of methods and resources you can utilize in your preparations for writing your memoir:

  • Contact and interview persons familiar with the events, places, people, and time periods of your memoir.

  • Employ the resources and methods you learned in Chapter 5 regarding fact gathering and research.

  • Conduct a scavenger hunt through keepsakes, correspondence, records, photographs, diaries, and so forth.

  • Use the Internet or library to confirm pertinent data such as events that occurred in a particular time period.

  • Visit the physical locations and settings where the events took place.

  • Edit Your Life

    Unless you're planning on writing the story of your life from birth to present, you're going to have to edit more than the words you put down — you're going to have to edit your life. Daunting as this may sound, it's quite simple.

    As you recall time periods and events, ask yourself if this is anything the reader will care about and if so, is it an essential element to the theme. Even though it may be obvious that a particular situation doesn't belong in your memoir, it is sometimes very difficult to omit it. For example, your significant other may be the most important person in your life, but if your memoir is about your childhood and your significant other doesn't appear until a decade later, then that person has no business being in your memoir. To alleviate the difficulty that comes with making such necessary deletions, just keep in mind you can always write another memoir covering a time of your life in which this person or event does play a prominent role.

    Afraid of Offending?

    One of the most difficult aspects in memoir writing is how to portray the people who have played a real life role in the events. First and foremost, you must be truthful, but that may have the consequence of making you concerned about hurting feelings.

    Portraying the people in a memoir accurately and truthfully to the best of your ability satisfies the ethical obligations of a memoir writer. However, you'll need more than good intentions and best efforts to defend a libel suit, where truth is an absolute defense only if it can be proven.

    If you're still concerned about hurting the feelings of some of the people depicted in your memoir even though they are portrayed correctly, you can disguise them by changing their names, their physical appearances, where they live, and the jobs they have. Chances are they still may be recognizable to themselves and perhaps to others who know them, but it will assuage any sense of embarrassment they might feel vis-à-vis the general public. Still, there is no guarantee that sensibilities will not be offended and this is something you must be prepared to accept if you choose to write a memoir.

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    2. Writing Nonfiction
    3. Memoirs: Book Length
    4. Preparing to Write Your Memoir
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