Writing the First Story in your Memoirs

Here are memoir-writing guidelines that can help you to write the first story in your book of memoirs–and all the stories you want to tell. You will want to pay particular attention to the guidelines when you begin your first story, however, since that first story is often the hardest one to write.

Don’t try to write a book. Write one story.

“Me, write a book! Oh no! Too much work to even think about.”

So don’t write a book. Write one story. Later, write another story. And then another.

Writing your memoirs as separate stories is less daunting than setting out to write an entire book. It also makes for better reading. Almost no reader will sit down with your memoirs and not get up again until there are no more stories to read. Instead, most readers will read one story and then get on with living their own lives. Readers who appreciate your first story will then come back to your memoirs later and read another story. And then another.

So, the goal is to make each of your stories a satisfying read in and of itself. The means to that goal is to write one story, then write another story. Then another.

For the first story in memoir writing, pick something easy to write about.

Particularly if you’re feeling unsure of yourself as a writer, make writing your first story easy.

If big words scare you, write using only small words about a time when you used only small words. You might start with something like the first time you learned to look left and right before crossing the street.

If you want to start with a story that seems too complicated or requires too much explanation, write only part of it. For example, write about the moment the photographer snapped your wedding picture rather than almost-getting-to-the-ceremony-too late-then-hearing-the-minister recite-vows-you-have-heard-since-you-were-very-small-then-the-almost-fearful-expression-on-your-bride’s-face-when-she-held-her-hand-out-for-the-ring-then-seeing-the faces-of-loved-ones-as-she-threw-her-bouquet-then-the-moment-the-photographer-snapped-this-picture. Whew!

If the first story you want to write seems too dreadful or too emotional, consider putting it off until you are more experienced. After due consideration, though, if you still want to write this story first then do so.

The first story you write may or may not be the first story in your eventual book. In memoir writing, you can begin at the beginning of your life, in the middle or at the end–so long as you begin with a subject that feels right to you.

Don’t get hung up on proper English.

I’ve known people with fascinating life histories who don’t write them down because they’re afraid their English grammar, spelling or punctuation isn’t good enough. Forget all that stuff. You’re the writer, so write. Hire an editor if you need one.

Tell the truth–but don’t get hung up on truth.

When you write your life stories, do not lie. If you don’t remember something, look it up on the Internet or aski someone about it. Do your research. Never lie about anything you remember or that you can find out.

But what about the little details you can’t remember? What was it your mother said 65 years ago when you ran across the street without looking left or right? How many blocks was it that you walked to school? Exactly when were shot (well, you may remember that one)? How big was that dent in your first car? What were you were wearing when…?

About any detail you can no longer remember and cannot research, ask yourself, “What would this be if I could remember it?” And then do include it in your story. In memoir writing, it is the detail that makes a story interesting.

Start a story wherever it starts and finish it wherever it goes.

Imagine your reader. If you have someone nearby whom you can trust, fix this person a cup of tea. Sit down with this person and tell your story. Or have an imaginary tête-à-tête with someone now gone from your life, someone to whom you could always tell the truth.

Begin a conversation with your muse, and you may discover that the first words out of your mouth are your perfect beginning sentence. Then, after you have that difficult beginning sentence written, know that you will have plenty of time with your muse, to listen, to work through difficulties, and finally to write your truth.