I’m a little late with my blog post today because I spent the afternoon at a Memoir Writing Workshop sponsored by the writers club I started in our community six years ago. It was a small but interested group and all seemed to have had their questions answered. The instructor, who had written a memoir herself, was well-prepared, with lists of popular memoirs, as well as lists of books on how to write one. We also learned the difference between a Memoir and an Autobiography, or Life Story.
“Wait,” you say, “why did you attend? I thought you’ve already written a memoir.”
True. After I sold my first short story, my husband’s aunt, whom we were visiting at the time, said, “Why don’t you write a story about the time I was a schoolteacher in a logging camp in the mountains?” Those were the Cascades, the state was Oregon and the year was 1913. I took notes, then corresponded and had many phone conversations with Aunt Gladys. The result was not a short story, but--due to her many adventures that first year of school teaching--an entire book. I called it THE GREEN BOUGH (boughs are on trees, and she was new or, “green,” get it? Oh, never mind.)
However, writing about Gladys’s first year teaching nine children in a one-room schoolhouse, is one thing; writing about my own checkered past is quite another. I didn’t know how to start and what to include or leave out. (Maybe I need three memoirs, one per husband.) I was not the only student with the problem of too much material. One man stated that he’d led an adventurous life, “made a million, lost it, made another, lost that...” A woman student wanted to “set the record straight” with her two daughters, who were apparently brainwashed by their father. Still another would make it a humorous look at her past.
I think we all went away with ideas of how to start, what resources to use, and how to cope with relatives we’re forced to include. Plus two valuable pieces of advice. (1) Don’t revise the book until it’s finished, and (2) don’t try to decide if you should aim for a family-only life story or try for publication until you know what you’ve got. Like almost every other kind of writing, it’s a good idea to store the manuscript under your bed for two months first.
How about you? Do you have a true story to tell? Thanks to the ease of self-publishing these days, you can do both.