Show, don't tell. Engage your reader by showing them a specific process or scene, rather than narrate directly to them. For example, write a scene that shows the reader how you discovered your mother’s letters from her family in Poland after her death. This will give the reader key information to help move the story forward, without telling them in a long, uneventful passage.
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.
The childhood story. Whether your childhood was happy or traumatic, you should include a few anecdotes that give a picture of who you were and what you experienced at the time. You can tell the story of your childhood by breaking it down into smaller anecdotes that illustrate your personality - your parents' reaction when you brought home a stray dog, the time you climbed out of the window at school and ran away for 3 days, your friendly relationship with a homeless person living in the woods . . . get creative.
“Be aware of the pat on the back! It might be the one thing that holds you back. We are always trying to find a way to make people better. In a weakened society, one of the methods people believe works is to give an instant pat on the back to someone once they do something positive/correct, etc. While this may be an effective method, all you are truly doing is weakening one person’s mind. You are essentially training a person to expect a congratulations/ an attaboy, etc., for every fucking thing they do. But, we are forgetting the very basic principles of being a basic fucking human being. Instead of the pat-on-the-back method, why not try this one? The fucking “supposed to” method! It is our job as leaders and teachers to teach people to not always look for the pat on the back rather to build a mindset that we are supposed to do and be our best all the time in every situation. We shouldn’t look for anything from anybody for simply doing our best. You are supposed to get up early, make your bed and clean your house. You are supposed to work out almost every day. You are supposed to do the best you can in school every day. You are supposed to bring your best effort to work every day. That pat on the back should only come when you have exceeded what most people consider exceptional work or have gone above and beyond what is expected. Don’t expect a pat on the back for the shit that a human being is supposed to be doing every day of their lives and that is being the best that he/she can be in every situation in their life. It’s not about you. It’s about your team, the ones you love, and having pride in yourself. It’s not about what others think or feel about you- it’s about how you feel about yourself.” – Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds
Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. The memoir is based on a man’s life that reads like a movie. He escaped from communist Hungary in the 60’s only to be held as a spy in a neighboring country. He got his Fiance out first and she married someone else while he was being held as a spy. His life started with a bomb landing less than ten feet from the stroller he was in – and the bomb didn’t explode.
I honestly think, as put by George Burns, it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate. It is not a failure if you enjoyed the process. Even if you fall down, don’t worry. Have a fresh view. The world looks different from the ground. You can take from every experience what it has to offer you. Do better the second time. You never know when you success is at threshold. It’s very difficult to come up with new, creative, and novel ideas unless you are passionate about your work. Leave your reputation and invest in character. Cheers to a new year; another chance for us to get it right with a new resolution.
If the project becomes too much for you at any point, remember that writing an autobiography takes time. Take the pressure off. Relax. This is your autobiography. You can make it as brief or as complete as you like, but don't expect to write it quickly. It may take years. If you want to finish fast, you might try the $14.95 Memorygrabber software I mentioned early. The publisher offers numerous free downloadable pages on their website, so you can decide if that approach will be useful or not.
Have you ever read an autobiography? Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, for example, is an exceptionally powerful one. “DEAR SON: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors.” That’s how it starts. But, Benjamin Franklin was an exceptional person, after all. That’s the point: autobiographies are for exceptional people. You’re exceptional, too. You have a special story that’s worth sharing. The only thing to learn is how to write a life story about yourself.
This is an extremely emotional and intimate type of writing. You share a personal experience with your readers in a detailed manner. Your audience should have an opportunity to see the event or person that you’ve written about through your eyes and understand your feelings. Any personal essay has two main aspects: the description of a particular situation and how it has influenced your worldview and life. Generally, the personal essay is the shortest form of autobiographical writing, along with the essay for college.
Conduct basic research. Depending on your story, you may feel you need to do in-depth research on a certain subject, like air force pilots in WWII or life in a refugee camp in Poland. However, resist doing too much research before you start your first draft. You may get overwhelmed by the amount of information you come across during your research and start to forget your personal take on the facts. Remember that your memoir should focus on your memory of the event, rather than be purely factual or completely accurate.
Train yourself to use concrete details rather than abstract concepts. Take another leisurely look at what you've written. Highlight abstract phrases such as "I was afraid," or "we had a pleasant time." Replace these abstract words or phrases with something concrete, such as "my hands shook and my mouth felt stuffed with cotton" or "We drank Chardonnay on the Chatterley's sailboat, and as the sun set Rachel and I walked hand in hand along the boardwalk." Was it "a hot day," or was "the asphalt so hot that your flip flops stuck to the tar"? You might go back to the professional autobiographies you're reading and type out a few passages from the books for practice. If you're watching for it, doing so will focus your attention on the concrete. Most ordinary readers won't think about whether or not you've used abstract or concrete terms. They will know whether the writing is boring or interesting. Writing an autobiography with concrete specificity will only improve it.
"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."
Build tension and suspense. Structure the narrative so that you have a series of stories leading up to the climax of the conflict. If your central conflict is trying to reach the goal of competing in the Olympics for skiing, lead up to it with stories of small successes and plenty of failures. You want your readers to ask, will she make it? Can he do it? What's going to happen next?