Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Writing Memoir - 3 Keys to Keep You On Track

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell @LucindaSMcDowel

“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.

Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping you Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, McDowell is the author of 13 books and contributing author to 30+ books. Her books include the award-winning Dwelling Places (2017 Christian Retailing BEST Award for Devotional)Ordinary Graces  (2018 Selah Finalist), Live These Words, and Refresh! Lucinda, a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, received Mt. Hermon “Writer of the Year” award and guest blogs for The Write Conversation, Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Blog and (in)courage. Whether co-directing  “reNEW ~ retreat for New England Writing,”  pouring into young mamas, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages. Lucinda’s favorites include tea parties, good books, laughing friends, ancient prayers, country music, cozy quilts, musical theatre, and especially her family scattered around the world doing amazing things.  Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and blogs weekly at http://www.EncouragingWords.net/ 
Follow Lucinda on Twitter: @LucindaSMcDowel

1 comment:

  1. Amen. "Live your story. Write your story. And embrace your role in God's great Kingdom Story." I pray I always remember to show His love and glory in all I say and do.