Is It Time to Share Your Story?
by Lucinda Secrest McDowell
“So what?” Unfortunately, that may be just the response when you say you want to write a memoir.
Why do you do it anyway?
To communicate a true story. Your story. Or at least part of it.
For a long time, the only people writing memoir were those who were rich, famous or extremely influential. But today anyone can write a memoir – and memoir stories are showing up in blogs, devotionals, and a whole variety of non-fiction books.
Why in the world would people read your memoir?
To gather important lessons, insight and perspective to help in their own personal stories.
Writer Douglas Crow puts it rather bluntly, “Nobody cares about your book. What people truly want is to improve their lives. The only reason someone may find your story interesting is how it relates to them.”
I’d like to encourage you to write your memoir, even if you aren’t rich, famous or particularly influential. Just remember these 3 keys to writing a memoir that people will read:
- Memoirs include a Theme.
Don’t try to tell your whole life story. Pick one theme and weave stories using that thread. The theme you choose must be universal, yet personal, something others can relate to, even if they have never experienced exactly what you have. Memoir doesn’t work when it’s just a bunch of unrelated stories – there must be something that ties them together. How do you choose which theme? Brainstorm some of the most significant watershed moments in your life. As you do, certain constants will emerge — perseverance over challenges, learning from bad choices, helping the underdog, etc. Remember to include a vital takeaway.
- Memoirs are Interesting.
Please don’t give us every single word that every person said when that thing happened to you. Just because it occurred doesn’t make it interesting. But if you use storytelling techniques you can make even the most ordinary everyday incident absolutely fascinating. Just don’t stretch the truth (remember James Frey and Brian Williams…) Use fiction techniques in writing your own non-fiction. And be sure to grab the reader from the very beginning with a great opening scene, perhaps even the pivotal moment of decision. Use dialogue to be vivid in your storytelling.
- Memoirs are Personal, yet Universal.
A truly good memoir is one we can all connect to in some way. It’s not just your autobiography; it’s about something bigger than just you. What are people going to do after they read it? Are they moved to make a decision, pursue a dream or change a habit? Perhaps the trickiest part of memoir is the personal vulnerability. In memoir, writers are willing to work our way into our readers’ hearts through honest sharing of the hard parts of our story. Honesty is not the same thing as confession (blurting out stuff for shock value.) And you don’t have to include every detail. As Meghan Daum observes, “Honesty means making the reader feel less alone. Honesty is inherently generous. Confession is needy and intrusive.” Pray before you share your story and ask God to help you do it in a redeeming manner.
As you write memoir, remember that readers are looking for your story to help them live their story. If we tell our story well, others will discover insight and inspiration valuable to their own lives. For those of us who are followers of Christ, this is the very reason we write, isn’t it?
“Every word You give me is a miracle word — how could I help but obey? Break open Your words, let the light shine out, let ordinary people see the meaning.” Psalm 119.129-130 MSG
Live your story. Write your story. And embrace your role in God’s great Kingdom Story.
under the mercy, Cindy
Note: If you live in the Hartford CT area, plan to join me this fall for 3 Monday nights as I teach an Adult Education class on Writing Memoir. Stay tuned for details!
©2015 Lucinda Secrest McDowell