A memoir weaves together stories from the author’s life, but including every detail and event is impossible. So how do you narrow someone’s entire life to fit into one book? Here are three tips and tricks for writing and editing memoirs.
Trim the Timeline
A lifetime of unique experiences and events can make for an exciting read. When sitting down to write a memoir, many feel that they need to go from their birth all the way through the present, detailing everything that has happened from start to finish. While some memoirs do encompass the entirety of the author’s life, most should focus on particular events and periods in the author’s life.
The reality is that a book can only hold so much, and in order to build a cohesive, engaging narrative, the memoirist should trim the timeline of their life, only keeping what is truly helpful in showing their story.
But how do you determine what is worth including?
A theme is an idea that runs throughout a work, such as love, friendship, overcoming adversity, etc. It’s important to decide what themes are important in telling your story because these will serve as a guide for what people, places, and events to include. Within the book itself, these themes can guide the reader in making meaning of your life experiences.
For example, if one of your themes is overcoming adversity in a creative way, then include the story of how you started a business from scratch after suddenly losing your long-time job. If loving and helping animals is an essential part of your life story, then include the story of the time you saved a baby bird from a hungry neighborhood cat and nursed it back to health.
Selecting scenes to support the book’s themes involves combing through your memories and selecting the gems that will immerse readers in your life experiences.
Dig through your memories for moments that truly embody the themes you chose. An important part of making a moment stick in a reader’s mind is the prose itself, but being selective about which memories you include is also key. You may have saved countless stray puppies and sickly kittens, but which of these rescues had the biggest impact on you and your life? You may have endured many moments of adversity over the course of your life, but which ones have contributed the most to making you who you are today?
There may be many gems in your mine of memories, but the ones that sparkle and shine the brightest are the ones that readers are most likely to remember long after closing the book.
Writing a memoir can be an incredibly fulfilling and empowering experience, and editing one can be just as rewarding. Trimming the timeline, thinking thematically, and mining through memories can help the writing and editing of the memoir manuscript run smoother while making a more memorable and engaging experience for readers.