Before I provide you with the proper tools for drafting a well thought out memoir and the common mistakes to avoid, let me do a quick recap of what a memoir actually is. Ok, I will try my best to keep this explanation as brief as possible, so we will skip right to the nitty gritty... A memoir tells the story of a pivotal event in the author’s life. It is still factual like an autobiography, but the author’s feelings, assumptions, and perspectives are a vital component to the theme. Instead of explaining facts that span the entire life of the author in chronological order (autobiography), the memoir focuses on one important event, and explains the author’s personal thoughts and feelings while it was happening (see ‘Memoirs vs Autobiographies’ for a deeper analysis).
Does that make sense? I hope it does. I kind of wasn’t in the mood for a lengthy introduction. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it should be easier to understand the common mistakes that new writers make when going about writing a memoir. Well, without any further ado, lets hop right to it my friend!
Not giving more consideration to the introduction: The first common mistake that up-and-coming writers make is not giving enough consideration to how they start their book. If you have read any of my other blogs, you already know how important first impressions are. Having a good introduction is the key to keeping the reader’s eyes glued to the rest of your story. The first chapter of a book is particularly important because that is the anchor to the rest of the story. It is your first introduction to the reader and sets the tone for the rest of the book. This is where the reader decides if your story will be relatable or not.
Many first-time authors also make the mistake of assuming their story is best told in chronological order. They forget that memoirs only include certain experiences…not all of them… so the introduction does not necessarily have to start from your date of birth. Start your book in the middle of the action. Have the reader wondering how and why the story got to that point. Keep their eyes glued to the pages as you prepare to take them on the journey of your life… then you can circle back to who you are and how your life began. Or begin your story after the pivotal event has occurred, then take your readers on a retrospective that considers the circumstance that led up to main event. That type of storytelling is such an attention grabber. We see it in movies and television shows all the time!
Using the wrong point of view: I know this seems a bit elementary, but we still need to be address this because it still occurs (no shame). Sometimes new writers forget that a memoir should be written in the past tense, and in the first person. Remember, the difference between a memoir and an autobiography is that you are involving your thoughts and feeling about an event from YOUR PERSPECTIVE. So naturally, there should be a first-person point of view. New writers make the mistake of writing in the present tense because normally when we come across other forms of storytelling (whether it be a novel, or non-fiction), it may be in the present tense depending on the author and the subject matter. But memoirs should ALWAYS be in the past tense.
Confusing it with a self-help book: Typically, people write memoirs because they want to help those that will potentially read it. Makes sense, right? However, first-time writers often confuse the two. Yes, both may include a problem in the author’s life, but the memoir usually has an overall theme to the story. Self-help books are meant to help the reader solve a personal problem. They are written in a straightforward way so you can go from point A to point B. In a memoir, the author goes from point A to point B in the story, but they don’t necessarily instruct the reader on how to do so. The author shares his or her thoughts, feelings, and emotions on the subject matter, but does not provide any advice for others who may come across the same problem. If you are new to the world of professional writing, just make sure your intent is clear when you author your book. If you are simply looking to tell a story, then you are writing a memoir. But if you are giving instructions on how a person can go from point A to point B in order to solve a personal issue, then that is a self-help book. Do not confuse the two.
To sum it all up, your memoir is about a pivotal moment in your life… from a first-person point-of-view… in past tense. It could unfold like one of those movies that starts at the middle or end of the story. You’re not just stating facts like an autobiography, nor are you writing an instructional self-help book. Rather, you are providing your thoughts and feelings about a particular event in your life. There is no need to have multiple events lined up in chronological order.
Like what you learned? Great! What life changing event are you going to share with the world? Carry on now, your audience is waiting.