Writing A Memoir? Avoid These Mistakes!

By on June 25, 2017
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Writing a memoir can be an extremely exciting project for any writer. However, it’s often a lot harder than you think!

Just because you are writing something personal, recalling things that have happened to you and telling your life story, it doesn’t mean that the writing will automatically flow, be captivating or that you’ll instinctively know what to do.

Writing a memoir requires you to be bold, truthful and compelling - you might have all the material you need but just because the story is already there doesn’t mean you’ll be able to write it in a captivating way.

If you are writing a memoir that you want to reach a wide audience you must truly understand how non-fiction storytelling works and seek that perfect balance between being truthful and entertaining, yet not offending your nearest and dearest or boring your readers with details that are of no interest to them.

So if you are thinking of writing a memoir, take a look at these common mistakes and make sure that you avoid them!

Writing too much

Your memoir shouldn’t be a daily journal of your life since you were 4 years old! You need to be able to condense, to pick those moments, those stories and experiences that changed you, that will have your readers in stitches or tears. Think carefully about what to include and what to leave out. Remember you aren’t writing an autobiography or a diary - a memoir should capture those important, life changing moments, those poignant memories, and funny stories or observations about life mixed alongside them.

Not having a theme

Your memoir should have a point, it should include lessons or universal truths that resonate with your readers, that help them, that make them think about something differently or comfort them - feeling that have found someone who understands just how they feel. Memoirs should be about accepting changes, adjusting, dealing with death or breakups or loss of some kind, showing sympathy and compassion, friendship, work, perseverance and determination, having to start over, making difficult decisions and learning from your mistakes.

Not preparing properly

Just because you are writing a book about your own life doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the same amount of research and preparation as you would do with a fiction book. Talk to friends or relatives, get different perspectives, read old diaries, read old newspapers, write down everything you know about a certain event, everything you felt and then revisit it to make sure that’s truly the way that you feel. Make sure you have a thorough and comprehensive outline of your memoir before you start, otherwise you could easily find yourself getting stuck or confused halfway through and not knowing how to take it forwards.

Forgetting your reader

It can be so easy to get too self-involved when you are writing a memoir. You may well be revisiting tough memories and experiences after all. But if you don’t remember that you are writing for an audience then you can’t expect your book to appeal to them. As with any piece of writing, it is important to keep your reader in mind at all times and always ask yourself - if I didn’t know this person, is this something that I would want to read?

Not consulting your friends and relatives

If you are going to write about friends and relatives, businesses, or old bosses, you might want to talk to them first. A memoir should be personal and exposing to some degree and if you involve other people you want to make sure you are prepared to have difficult discussions with them or indeed ruin those relationships, and also protect yourself against any lawsuits!

Writing a memoir can be a truly cathartic and profound experience and, done right, can be a great success too. Just make sure you avoid these common mistakes, use your common sense, and really plan what you want to say. Then just go for it!

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

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