Creative nonfiction: memoir. How to write a memoir?

While I am familiar with writing fiction – like novels, short stories, etc. – writing creative nonfiction like a memoir is something new. As I have found out, a memoir is a very popular genre nowadays. A memoir is written not only by popular figures, but by many who’ve already established themselves as fiction writers.

So, what exactly is a memoir? A memoir is an essay, about an important part of the narrator’s (writer) life that she or he wants to share. In this case, then, a memoir is no different than an autobiography, right? You probably questioned it as I did when I read the definition of the memoir. No, there is a difference according to the book I am currently reading titled Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington.
Here is how she differentiates the autobiography from the memoir:

An autobiography is the story of a life: the name in lies that the writer will somehow attempt to capture all the essential elements of that life. A writer’s biography, for example, is not expected to deal merely with author’s growth and career as a writer but also with the facts and emotions connected to the family, life, education, relationships, sexuality, travels, and inner struggles of all kinds. An autobiography is sometimes limited by dates but not obviously by theme.

Memoir, on the other hand, makes no pretense of replicating a whole life. Indeed, one of the important skills of memoir writing is the selection of the theme or themes that will bind the work together.

So, my understanding about a memoir is that you can pull out a chunk of what happened in your life and write about it. While an autobiography is an essay written from the time when you born up to the time of you writing about your life.

Now, I can understand it better. If I am interested to write a memoir, where do I start? Through my reading about writing a memoir, I need to understand the characteristics of the memoir itself. Here is the list of its characteristics:

    1. The protagonist in your memoir is called the narrator, which is you (the writer). It is focused on you and your relationships with others, places that had a significant impact on you. 

    2. It is based on the true story that happened in your life.

    3. It is focused on a brief period of time in your life that you want to write about.

    4. It has all the elements of fiction – characters, plot, climax, etc. However, the plot of your memoir is about the pain you had been through and how you made the best of it or how you got through it. In fiction, you can create the conflict between the characters to form the plot.

    5. It includes your (the writer) feelings and thoughts. This will reveal your emotions: happy, mad or sad about what had happened.

    6. The memoir engages your reader in a conversational way. You also need to write your memoir in such a way that your readers can learn something from it.

The characteristics of a memoir as listed above will help you too to start to write your memoir. The memoir is written solely based on your own memory – as the way you remembered it. If you had kept diary or journal all these years, it will be the most valuable materials for your memoir.

In order for me to better understand how to write a memoir, I read two of the best seller’s books by Susan Shapiro titled Five Men Who Broke My Heart: A Memoir and Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking, and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex.

Biographies & Memoirs of Authors.

Both of these books are hilariously funny yet painful to read at best. The author is a great writer and all the characteristics I mentioned above are obviously used to shape her story.

So, let’s write a memoir together, shall we?

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