Most memoirists struggle to begin their life story and are not sure where to start. Depending on your life story, you may reach out to other family members for details on a childhood memory or event. But it’s important that you also focus on your personal experiences and your recollection of a childhood memory or moment, even if it may be flawed. Often, the best memoirs are about the process of remembering an event, or are about processing a moment in the past that felt important.
If you graduated from high school despite struggling with dyslexia, you may have a powerful story about perseverance. If you became hugely successful in your career, perhaps your story is rooted in diligence with a dash of luck. While researching this idea in the course of writing the book Writing Your Legacy (WD Books), Richard Campbell and co-author Cheryl Svensson focused on the concept of life themes, developed by the father of gerontology James E. Birren. In the January 2017 Writer’s Digest, Campbell explains why the 10 core legacy themes are an essential piece in puzzling together your memoir. Below, he breaks down each element and poses questions sure to prompt a personal response from writers.
Not necessarily a writer, but still want to record your story somehow? Don’t think that there’s no hope for you. Consider making audio or video recordings. Audio recordings can be especially helpful. You can take audio recordings to a writer/transcriptionist who can then type out your story in a logical order. Working closely with a writer as you verbally record your stories can be an alternative when you feel you are too close to the story.
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How did the memoir keep the reader engaged and interested in the story? The best memoirs are honest and unflinching, with details or admissions that the writer may be afraid to make. The writer may write in a way that feels truthful, full of moments that may not make the writer look good or conflicted. But readers often respond to vulnerability in a memoir, and a writer who is not afraid to describe their failures along with their successes.
Yes, you have to be precisely honest and quite revealing and candid to write a successful autobiography. And obviously, you need to describe some hardships of your life to show how you coped with that or how it influenced you. However, we strongly advise you to describe the thing that you feel rather calm about when writing. For example, you are writing about other students picking and making fun of you at high school. If you still feel like wanting to kill them all, it would be better to avoid this topic or mention it slightly. Why so? Because your feelings will leak into the writing and make your reader feel subconsciously uncomfortable.
Why it helps: First off, if you want to write a memoir, this three-sentence description will form the structure of your book. In effect, it’s a supershort story of your life—a beginning, a middle and the now, if you will. Even if you have zero impulse to write another word, however, the exercise can show you how you view yourself, your past and your present, all of which can inform your future. Unless, of course, you change the narrative—a privilege granted to any writer.
Sometimes people come into your life and you know right away that they were meant to be there, to serve some sort of purpose, teach you a lesson, or to help you figure out who you are or who you want to become. You never know who these people may be (possibly your roommate, neighbor, coworker, longlost friend, lover, or even a complete stranger) but when you lock eyes with them, you know at that very moment that they will affect your life in some profound way.
It may help to identify the reading level of the ideal reader of your book. You can determine the reading level based on the grade level of your ideal reader. If you account for ESL readers, you should aim for a grade 6 or 7 reading level. If you are writing for a higher education audience, you may write at a grade 8 or 9 level. You can use the Hemingway app to determine the reading level of your draft, or other online reading level tools.
Do you remember any other challenges you had to overcome that relate to each main point in the story? Did you move? Were you ill? Did anyone close to you die? Did any of these people or events affect the choices you made during that stage of your life? Do you remember any amusing or embarrassing incidents related to this success or failure? What high points and low points do you recall? Was a specific holiday or celebration memorable? A specific meal or car ride?
The consequence(s): Ask yourself, What disaster will happen if the goal is not achieved? What is my protagonist afraid will happen if she doesn’t achieve the goal or solve the problem? The consequence is the negative situation or event that will result if the goal is not achieved. The combination of goal and consequence creates the main dramatic tension in your plot. It’s what makes the plot meaningful.
"Today, the plains and low hills of southeastern Ohio make the perfect setting for large cracker box-shaped farmhouses surrounded by miles of corn rows. Many of the farming families in this region descended from the Irish settlers who came rolling in on covered wagons in the 1830s to find work building canals and railways. My ancestors were among those settlers."
The theme of your life is to be defined before the story is written. Your goal – and your ultimate achievement of that goal – can be the theme. You should also remember to include something that takes the focus from the past and present, and puts it on the future. A particular event that had a huge impact on your life can be your theme. Find and mark that one day and or one event that twisted your life out of shape and made you think about your future. In general, the end or beginning of somebody’s life has a tremendous impact on many people’s lives. It is around this theme that the story should be woven like rich tapestry of many colors and flavors.
Very inspiring stories. It gives me more pleasure. Some times we forgot to love ourselves because of the things happening around us and we feels that we doesn’t have any value at all. But instead of suffering with these regrets, if we feel that as odd season and if we take a step with belief and prove ourselves, then obviously we can get back the value in the society. By following these kind stories, we can achieve a better life i feel.
The inciting incident is the pivotal moment in your story, where you realized your desire line. It could be a seemingly small moment, such as a brief fight with your mother, that becomes a major moment or inciting incident in your story. For example, your brief fight with your mother could be the last time you speak to her before she passes away and leaves you letters about her life in Poland. Think of the ah ha moment in your story when you realized what you wanted in your life, or where you realized you were wrong about your assumptions about a specific moment or event.
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When you are done with reading and have reached an inspiring mood, you can try to write. Then comes the question on how to organize time wisely and your text, in order to present it in the best way possible. Such questions you may face while writing and after the first draft is finished. We have worked hard and found for you some sources that will be helpful while writing an autobiography.
I think the first and best step to getting things out – but not necessarily writing your life story for anyone else to read – is to buy a journal. Start writing about your experiences and painful memories. It will hurt, but the only to get past the pain is to go through it. The more it hurts, the better it will be in the long run to process the experience.
Use chapter divisions to give the book structure. Chapters are useful because they allow you to move on from discussing certain life periods or events. There's a reason we have the expression that we've "closed a chapter" or "opened a new chapter" in life, and it's even more applicable when discussing an autobiography. Chapter breaks allow you to skip forward 10 years, go back in time, or start describing a new theme without jarring the reader too much.