· Lessons Learned Make the Memoir ·
If you write anything, you’re likely to connect with and use your memories. On a daily basis we are reminded of yesterday. The radio is playing a song from our past. The TV or social media announces an anniversary of a special event. We remember from our life, not a history book. We see a faded photograph of us or our family. We look in the mirror and remember a younger self.
Memories and stories are everywhere we look. Most people are content with allowing the memories to fade and vanish. Sure, we hope to be remembered. But time will take its toll on all of us.
Do you have a story to tell? A memory to share? A lesson that you’ve learned? Whether it’s a memoir poem or essay or writing your memoir, let’s get started.
It’s simple and it’s complicated. It matters and it doesn’t. But I do believe that writing is more important than the definition of the genre.
It starts off simple enough: memoir writing is writing about one’s personal experience.
There are short and long essays, poems, and non-fiction books of prose that fall into this memoir category.
And then they’re writers who decide to “write their memoirs.” Often, this means the writer is going to review, even research, his or her memories in order to write an autobiography. Could anyone argue that an autobiography isn’t made up of countless memories? No, of course not.
To support the thinking of an autobiography being a memoir, book reviewers sometimes promote the recently published tome as an excellent “memoir”!
But by literary definition, writing the memoir is not an autobiography! It’s not a story of a life. It’s a story from a life, a slice of life, that usually informs the reader about the author’s journey from pain to pleasure. It’s about change. It describes a personal transformation from the rough times to the good times. Readers are drawn to these books because they want to learn from other people’s struggles, to see how they coped, and eventually how they excelled.
A memoir might be written by a military veteran about the challenges of life in a war zone followed by a new set of challenges after returning home, it could be a recollection from a person growing up in poverty before achieving financial success, or a story of a person discovering her or his family’s roots.
A memoir is written in first person. In the introduction of my police memoir, Cop in the Classroom: Lessons I’ve Learned, Tales I’ve Told, I state:
“I should have been thankful for the offer, instead it only reinforced my unwillingness to be a part of one more grisly scene of death. My shift was over. I had paid my dues. I just didn’t have it in me to look at yet another dead teenager.”
As with many books, fiction and non-fiction, I begin my story in the middle, not at the beginning. I inform the reader that I have experienced trauma and I promise to tell them the details later.
In writing my memoir I learned a lot about myself. Just by putting the words on paper it helped me to understand how I adjusted to becoming a police officer and then later coped again with the trauma inherent with the stressful work. Sharing with the reader one’s insecurities, vulnerabilities, and embarrassing moments is one proven method for establishing trust. Honesty really is the best policy.
Very few people are interested in reading a depressing book. If readers trust you as a writer, then they will accept sad stories because they are expecting an upturn by the end of your book. Don’t disappoint them.
Believable dialogue is a must in any book, especially in a memoir. Readers know you haven’t carried a recorder around with you for most of your life so they will accept your recollections as long as they trust you.
Decide on your theme or life lessons and eventually you’ll be able to incorporate your writing into a character arc. Show the reader how you overcame life’s obstacles and survived to become an author.
By the end of Cop in the Classroom I’m a healthy person helping children take healthy risks.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!