As human beings, we’re predisposed to think of ourselves as worthy of an audience. After all, we’re each the protagonist of our own story, if not its hero. But in the age of reality television, we can’t all be stage moms and backwater tycoons. For the rest of us, self-aggrandizement is better suited for the page.
Roberta Temes, PhD, has penned How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days: Step-by-Step Instructions for Creating and Publishing Your Personal Story (Readers Digest, March)—though it should be called How to Write a Memoir in 30 Installments, since Temes herself concedes that thirty continuous days is ambitious. Instead, she offers thirty chapters, organized around thirty writing exercises, that will help you to craft a memoir.
Day 1: Think about your life and sum it up in two or three sentences.
This can be an exercise in editing, if nothing else; inevitably, you’ll fill 2-3 pages before you’ve winnowed your entire life down to 2-3 sentences. Still, it’s possible, as long as you focus on the essentials: who you are, as defined by the life-altering decisions you’ve made.
Day 13: List the names of your parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, step-relatives.
This may seem like a specious exercise (just for fun, I listed the Brady Bunch), but creating a list will establish connections that would otherwise elude you. At the same time, your family members may appreciate having their names expunged from the record, so maybe try listing ex-boy/girlfriends, places you’ve lived, etc.
Day 16: Identify a memory that you try not to think about.
Seems counter-intuitive, no? But what inspires you to start writing may only be half as interesting as what you recall along the way. That’s not to say you’ll require repressed memories before you get started—there’s still plenty of embarrassing or incriminating material to mine in your past.
Day 20: Your memoir needs a plot.
Which is to say, your memoir will require a narrative arc. Have no fear—if you can tell a joke, you’ve already got the gist. It simply requires Situation (man walks into a bar), Conflict (he’s got a duck on his head), Climax (the bartender says, “How long have you had that?”) and Resolution (the ducks says, “For as long as I can remember!”). In essence, your story remains the same: you simply identify a Conflict and Climax in the retelling.
Day 31: When the first 30 days are done, spend another 30 days on your memoir, and another, and another…
I made this one up, but it’s equally important. Undoubtedly, great works of literature have been produced in less time, but there’s no penalty for taking it slow. You spent years living through these experiences—it should take a while to organize and relate them. And remember, unless you’re making a deathbed confession, a second memoir is already in the works!
Brady Bunch: www.whatculture.com
Writers block: www.collaborativewriter.wordpress.com