Hello and welcome, everyone, to Adventures in Writing and my first Author Toolbox Blog Hop post. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Victoria Marie Lees and I write YA short story adventures, poetry, and memoir.
Memoir is a story—yes, even though it’s about the writer’s life, it is a story. “Just the facts, Ma’am,” is autobiography. Memoir is usually about one specific time period in the writer’s life, a period where discoveries are made. Memoir interprets the events for the reader. Occasionally, the timeline of memoir may be scattered throughout the writer’s lifetime, but the focus will be narrowed to one topic.
My memoir is about the ten-year journey I took through academia to acquire a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania while still being a mother to my five children during their growing-up years. It encompasses the trials a parent needs to face and understand when attempting such an endeavor and how to survive it successfully.
Memoir needs to be true. You must include the fiction elements of:
protagonist vs. antagonist[s], even if the antagonist is a concept like time or academic understanding;
tension and problem resolution;
an overall-story ticking clock;
setting and pacing;
the creation of believable characters out of real people.
This is what makes memoir so difficult to write. You are telling a story about yourself with all these fiction elements in place.
Then you need to consider that memoir is not all about you. Memoir needs to offer critical insight for the reader.
So how do you do this?
By looking inside yourself to understand why you did what you did at that time, why you thought what you thought at that time.
Remember. Just like in fiction, the reader needs to be in the scene, understanding your every move. Everything from why you think it’s best to drop a course, as in my memoir, to why any parent would ever attempt an Ivy League education after starting her education at a community college close to home.
The often misunderstood “Show, don’t tell” helps with this. “Show, don’t tell” means to show the reader why what’s happening matters to the protagonist. Fiction or memoir, you need to show how the protagonist came to that decision—internally. Inner thoughts are at the heart of any story or memoir. In other words, to borrow from Hemingway, to write a memoir, you need to “bleed” on the page.
Readers want to be in the head of the protagonist, hearing the inner thoughts and understanding any logic for decisions made, no matter how flawed that logic may be.
Remember, the protagonist is flawed. This is the most difficult part for memoirists.
Now you’re thinking: “Me? Flawed?”
Okay, so I don’t know about you, but I’m greatly flawed. Just ask my children.
As in all creative writing, the writer must decide what to put in the story or essay and what to leave out—especially in memoir. Memoir is not your whole life. That’s autobiography. Memoir is only a small piece of it.
For me to choose which flaw to showcase in my college memoir, I needed to consider the flaw that would resonate most with the story question of why I waited until I had five children to attend college. My youngest, twins, started second grade and the oldest, who is learning-disabled, started high school when I began my college journey.
To dramatize that moment in the memoir, I needed to consider my own personal backstory, my past, my growing up years to discover the origin scene for the flaw in my own logic.
There is so much to consider when creating a memoir. This should get you started if you plan to write one in the future. I’d like to continue this topic for next month’s Author Toolbox blog hop.
Please feel free to share any good memoirs you have read or leave any questions you may have about memoir or writing in the comments section. Again, thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. I’ll be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here.
28 thoughts on “Memoir Made Easy: What to Remember When Starting Out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”
Hi Victoria, Thank you for this informative post about memoirs. Indeed I like to read memoirs because I love biographies–stories about people's lives. I didn't realize that the first story I wrote and published (for Readers Digest) was a memoir. It was a story about the summer after my dad died (I was 8 years old). The story was very hard to write because it was so close to me. So, I can relate to what you said about "bleeding" on the page.
Looking forward to more of your posts and for joining the blog hop!
What a great overview. I feel like I knew a lot of this, but I needed to see it in writing. I adore memoirs, and it's one of the genres I read most. So many great ones to choose from: Long Walk to Freedom, Wild Swans, Glass Castle, Brain on Fire, etc. Great post! Thanks for the contribution, Victoria Marie!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Joan! Thank you for your kind words. They are greatly appreciated.
Bravo to you for publishing a memoir in Readers Digest. Wow! You really did have a sad story to tell. My condolences. My father died when I was in college, which for me means I was 43. I'm sure you provided lots of insight in your memoir story, looking back at that time with new eyes.
Thank you again, Joan, for stopping by Adventures in Writing and leaving a note. It's appreciated more than you realize. Enjoy your day!
Thank you so much for your kind words here on Adventures in Writing, Raimey. They are greatly appreciated. I've read memoirs from Eudora Welty to Margaret Robison and Beth Kephart. There are a whole host of great memoirs out there, and I've only touched the surface. Thank you for offering a few more to add to my list.
Thank you for creating Writers Toolbox Blog Hop. Now, I best be hopping through the Toolbox blog list. Thanks again for your kind words here on Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your day!
"Memoir is not all about you." This is a great point. Memoir should be as much about the reader as the writer.
Thanks for the run-down of what constitutes memoir. I was lucky enough to have you tell me this in person but this is a great way to review the workshop you gave.
I'm toying with publishing my blog posts from when we decided to move to Hawaii (quit good jobs, live with family) and the first few months we lived there. Except, I didn't follow through, so the ending is like waiting for Godot.
I love memoirs! I love it when a writer makes me feel what they felt, especially when you've heard the story before from a third-party. It's an amazing experience.
Thank you for this informative post. I will come back to this if I have gather up the courage to share my story.
Thank you for a concise and informative article. I've read a few memoirs but I don't think I fully appreciated the distinctions you pointed out until now.
Very informative! Thanks for sharing this. It's not a topic often covered, so made an interesting read over my morning coffee.
Thank you so much for you kind words, Erika. They are greatly appreciated. I wanted to start basic with this first post. Hopefully, I can build on this with successive Toolbox posts. The hardest thing for memoirists to remember is that the memoir story is not really all about them. They need to think about their readers and how this particular slice of life can help the readers in turn.
Always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Keep cool today!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Cheryl!
I'm with you about Waiting for Godot. But how exciting about quitting jobs and living with family–in Hawaii! Memoir can be written at any time. It doesn't need to be written instantly, after the event. Memoir takes much thought and development in order to matter to the reader. Blog posts are a great way to begin.
Thank you so much for leaving a note on Adventures in Writing. It's appreciated more than you know.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Vanessa!
Memoirs are all about emotional connection with the protagonist. Thank you for your kind words. I truly appreciate them. And I appreciate your leaving a note on Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your day.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Drew!
That's the uniqueness of memoirs. How they are true stories first and offer insight second. Thank you for your kind words. I truly appreciate them. And I appreciate your leaving a note on Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your day, sir.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Kristina!
Thank you for your kind words. I truly appreciate them. There are many struggles to writing memoir. But they can be fascinating reads when done right.
I appreciate your leaving a note on Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your day, Kristina.
This is so helpful and detailed. Thank you for sharing. I'll definitely come back to this if I write a memoir someday.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Hoda!
Thank you for your kind words. They are greatly appreciated. And thanks for leaving a note on Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your weekend.
Thanks for sharing this helpful and detailed post. I added this to our #AuthorToolboxBlogHop Pinterest board 🙂
Once again a great post, Victoria. As I am writing my memoir right now (first draft stage – still :-)), I'm finding your blogs about writing memoir very helpful. In an earlier post, your focus on the "origin scene" had me thinking and discussing my past with my parents a couple of months ago. It's hard to pinpoint where a flaw started or a passion emerged… Now, after this post, my personal exercise is to focus on my (biggest" flaws and how to corporate that in my narrative. I'm finding all this more difficult than the writing itself and hope that, after the first draft, themes, flaws and scenes will become more obvious to me. Thanks for the insights and happy writing!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Ronel! Thank you so much for your kind words and for adding my post to the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop Pinterest Board. It is truly appreciated.
Enjoy your week!
Thank you for your kind words, Liesbet. Memoir is difficult to write because it all needs to be true. And "origin scenes" can lie deep in the past. It's great that you can speak to your parents about this. They can help you remember what happened when.
Flaws! Nuts! I'm full of them. But we need to pick and choose which flaw/s to include in a specific memoir story. Only include the flaw/s that pertains to the point you are trying to make with the memoir story. It's tough, believe me!
Thanks so much for your comment. It’s always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing.
Great insight into writing memoir. It's easy to forget some of these, especially the idea that "it's not all about you". Writers who are new to memoir would learn a lot. Are you on Pinterest or Twitter? I don't see share buttons for those media platforms.
Oops! Never mind about the media links. I found them!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Lauricia! Thank you so much for your kind words. I thought I'd start basic with the memoir and move deeper with the next post for Toolbox.
I'm not on Pinterest–yet. I'm finding enough trouble keeping up with facebook, google+ and twitter. Again, thanks for your comment. It's greatly appreciated. All the best to you.
Hi Victoria – sorry this has taken me ages to get here. I'm doing a 'memoir course' – actually more a writing up parts of one's history. My personal history is probably not that interesting – but the various sides of the family have entrepreneurial sections or periods … so I'll concentrate on writing those up – with my usual type of blogging extras thrown in for good measure. More a range of historical chapters – I can sort of see what I want to do … it'll go back 200 years or so – as I've the records for those periods …
As I'm not writing for my children (have none) I'll leave the flaws out!!!! … just make each part interesting as I see it from my point in time; but I do like the approach you've taken for your 10 year journey – congratulations on achieving your degree … cheers Hilary
I wish you luck with your memoir. Don't give up!
Thank you so much for your kind words, Hilary. It's always a pleasure finding your comments here at Adventures in Writing.
Wow! 200 years! Sooo cool! It's your "usual type of blogging extras" that make you so interesting to read. Thanks so much for your comment. It's appreciated more than you realize.
Thank you so much, Michelle, for your well-wishes. They are appreciated more than you realize. It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your day!
Thank you for this information. I am going to share this link with my FB Group–Telling Life Your Story and Memoirs Circle. Anxious to read more of your articles.