Seasonal Gifts Can Add Up to a Memoir

blog19The older you are, the harder it is to choose an appropriate holiday gift for you. You probably already have everything you need. Another bangle, necktie or bottle of cologne? Unnecessary. Something for the house? Not when you’re trying to downsize. Your children may resort to coupons for “one garage clean-up,??? while your grandchildren will color yet another picture for you to stick on your refrigerator.

Since you’re here writing your memoirs, I have an idea for you. Ask your loved ones to write out a story they remember from their lives that involves you in some way. Maybe your son fondly recalls the first time you took him to the ballpark, or your daughter remembers details about the family vacation at the seashore. Your best friend may have a recollection of time you spent together that you’d forgotten all about! If you have parents, they can write or record tales from your childhood that may have happened when you were so young that you don’t remember.

When the holidays are over and you sit down in earnest to resume writing your autobiography, these stories will be helpful to you. Like a reporter, you can quote them directly, or you even can devote a whole chapter to them and include them exactly as they’re written. It will make your memoirs richer to get an outside perspective, and the contributors will know that they’ve given you a gift you truly appreciate and will use.

Memoirs Are Splashed Against History’s Canvas

blog18By their very nature, your memoirs recount stories from an entire life span and, therefore, will contain a unique historical perspective that follows that time line. Perhaps you’ve lived through a dozen U.S. administrations, several wars and a host of natural catastrophes. You may remember owning an early model automobile, watching a man land on the moon and hearing “you’ve got mail??? for the first time over the Internet. The panoramic history of the times will always provide the tapestry that brings texture to your life stories.

Reading Judith Warner’s commentary in Sunday’s New York Times got me thinking about how my own autobiography would play out against the background of the women’s movement. In quoting the book Beauty Junkies—“Looks are the new feminism???—Warner expresses the opinion that the popularity of plastic surgery reflects middle aged women’s inability in the current economy to control anything other than their own appearance. “Women’s empowerment becomes a matter of a tight face and a flat belly,??? she says.

I remember when Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique topped the best-seller list. Various decisions I’ve made have reflected the many options and opportunities granted to my generation of women. My life story, particularly my career, would not have had the same developments in another era. For example, consider what you’re reading at this very moment: someday blogs will seem so 2009!

Photo: © Nic Neish

Group Gathers for Memoir Writing

©IoanaGrecu5Many goals are easier to achieve when you do them along with other people. In that way, writing memoirs is no different from writing poetry or less related goals such as losing weight, investing in stocks or quilting—you might find motivation from having a writing partner or participating in an entire group of autobiographers.

Chicago Tribune columnist Barbara Brotman reported yesterday on a suburban group of women that splintered off from a park district class on writing family histories to form a more permanent memoir writing group. According to the column, five women of varying ages meet every Monday at the home of one of the members to share their ideas, read passages from their writing and motivate each other to continue toward their own finish lines. They’ve decided to structure the process by writing one decade at a time.

“The act of writing their stories and sharing them has brought the women satisfaction, friendship and respect,??? Brotman reports. She quotes one of the group’s members as saying, “We all have kids. A lot of times your kids think your life began with them. Now my kids will look at me and say, ‘You did that?’ And I say, ‘Yes, I did that.’??? Perhaps you know a few people you could invite to join a memoir writing group. You could all bring laptops and read from your WriteMyMemoirs accounts!

Photo: © Ioana Grecu

New Book Traces the History of Memoir Writing

blog16The urge to write memoirs has long been part of the human psyche, according to a new book, Memoir: A History, in which author Ben Yagoda connects the dots through 2,000 years of memoirs. In tackling the question of whether an autobiography must be 100 percent true and accurate, Yagoda concludes that telling your story in good faith is more important than getting every fact perfectly straight, according to the New York Times review of the book.

The aspect of memoirs that interests me more, however, is the widespread desire to write one. Why put so much energy into this task? I don’t believe that a hope to get rich from publishing their story is what drives people to write about themselves. The Times reviewer, Judith Shulevitz, theorizes that it’s a universal need to tell our side of things—to explain why we’ve done what we’ve done. Shulevitz quotes philosopher Hilary Putnam: “We are, most of us, interested in justifying at least some features of our own style of life, in the sense of giving a defense of them that would appeal to others.???

This strikes a chord with me; most of us want to be liked or, at least, understood. The latest big-deal autobiography to hit the bookstores, Going Rogue, would not have been written if author Sarah Palin hadn’t felt the need to tell her side of what went on during last year’s presidential campaign. As you write your memoirs, you may experience some of that “justification satisfaction??? yourself.

WriteMyMemoirs Publishing Services to Arrive Soon!

blog15One question that frequently pops into our WriteMyMemoirs inbox is how to publish memoirs into a real book, either for sale or just private ownership. Many people feel they have compelling stories to tell that would enlighten, inform, amuse or inspire readers. Others would like to have a hard copy to give as a gift or keep for themselves.

Getting published through traditional channels is very difficult. Typically, you first need to find and convince a literary agent to represent your work to book publishers, and even then the odds are against you. But the good news is that self-publishing has become not only common but quite accepted. What used to be looked down on as “vanity publishing??? is now a respected method to get your book out there quickly and within your own control.

While lots of companies on the Internet will publish your work for a fee, we thought that it would be most convenient if we could offer such a fee-based service right here at WriteMyMemoirs. All you have to do is give us the green light, and we can take the autobiography chapters you’ve written right from your account without your having to create a pdf or do any of the other tasks that Internet publishers tend to require. We are in the process of putting together a very affordable package and will email our members when it’s ready. If you’re in a hurry, email us and we can get started publishing your memoirs right away!

How to Use the “Export/Publish??? Button on WriteMyMemoirs

blog14We’re delighted that many of our members write regularly and add to the stories that will ultimately form a complete memoir. However, I’d like to caution you about something that may be confusing a few of you.

To make sure you keep safely in your account each new entry you’ve written, you know to always remember to push the big red SAVE button at the bottom left of the writing box. We offer two other options as well: to transfer your work to your computer, and to share your work with other Write My Memoirs members. To perform either function, push the EXPORT/PUBLISH button. After that, you can identify which stories you want to export or publish. When you push EXPORT, you’ll have a short wait until the story is ready for you to download to your computer. Another link will appear with instructions to click it in order to complete the download. When you push PUBLISH, your work will be eligible for administrative approval (just a formality) to become available for others to view under our VIEW PUBLISHED STORIES tab at the top of the home page.

From time to find we find stories with no content waiting for our approval to publish. Obviously the author has pushed PUBLISH in error. We certainly don’t want to discourage you from choosing to share your life story online with our full membership; we just want to make sure that you truly intended to share the work, so please be careful!

Retirement Years Too Busy for Writing Memoirs?

blog13Last time I mentioned Moon River and Me, a new memoir by Andy Williams. This leads me to an intriguing quote that Williams gave to Parade a couple of weeks ago. He told the reporter that this is the busiest time of his life. He’s 81 years old!

Giving interviews about his autobiography is probably one reason Andy has been so busy lately. But he also performs at his theater in Branson, Missouri, makes guest appearances and perhaps is catching up on the family time he says he missed when his children were growing up. But I doubt that he’s the only 81-year-old who doesn’t sit in the rocking chair. Today’s octogenarians have plenty on their plate. Some are raising grandchildren or at least highly active in the lives of their families, many continue to work and lots of seniors make a second career out of hobbies or volunteering for causes close to their hearts.

If you’re busy doing a gazillion things, and unlike Andy Williams you don’t have a book deal deadline and an editor breathing down your neck for motivation, you might find that days and weeks pass without adding a word to your memoirs. The best way to stay on task is to set aside specific times to work on your autobiography. Otherwise, you get so busy living that you neglect to fulfill your goal of recording your life’s events!

Photo: © Rosanne Ullman

Soul-Searching Autobiography Can Reveal Author’s Flaws

blog12Andy Williams, one of my favorite crooners, has a new memoir on the shelves, Moon River and Me. A reader who reviewed it on amazon.com wrote: “This autobiography has captured a whole, not publically well known, side of one of the greatest entertainers of all time. And above all else, I came away with an appreciation for what a really good man there has been behind the public persona. This is a story of an American Dream realized, a man, like many of us, who dedicated too much to his career and not enough to his family, who has the strength and courage to admit it.???

I like the “strength and courage??? characterization. Writing your life story in some ways is quite a brave undertaking. Even though you actually lived the events that you’re putting into words, delving deeply into each chapter may threaten your own image of yourself. I wonder how many people begin writing their memoirs only to discover aspects of their lives that shine an unflattering light on some of their choices. Looking back less than fondly on spending too little time with family, as Andy Williams does in his memoir, is probably a fairly common regret to express.

In this way, writing your memoirs can be cathartic: a good exercise in acknowledging your faults and flaws. In addition, infusing some honest evaluation will win over readers quicker than simply providing tale after tale of success, achievement and conquest.

This is Not FakeMyMemoirs.com

blog11Here at WriteMyMemoirs, we have no truth police. If you choose, you can write up your imaginary experiences as a superhero and try to pass it off as your autobiography. But I have to say that I don’t relate to that level of “embellishment.???

At livescience.com, columnist Benjamin Radford provides a short list of some high-profile faked autobiographies. Written last January, the column was timely because of the revelation that highly publicized Angel at the Fence, the story of a connection made by a young boy and girl during the Holocaust miraculously rekindled many years later as a romance and marriage, was a complete fabrication. Author Herman Rosenblat did not in truth first meet his wife Roma when she threw apples across a fence in Nazi Germany. What Oprah labeled “the greatest love story??? was more like the greatest sucker punch.

But it certainly wasn’t the only faked bio, not even the first one that fooled Oprah, who was an early champion of James Frey’s largely invented A Million Little Pieces. Our assumption with WriteMyMemoirs has been that members would be pursuing nonfiction writing. But, hey, if you want to make up the whole thing, just remember to call it what it is: a piece of pure, if entertaining, fiction.

Photo: © Gataloca

Correct Apostrophe Use in Writing Memoirs

blog10As you write your memoirs, you may have questions about grammar and sentence construction. I’m a writer and editor by profession, and I teach an adult education writing class. On this blog I’ll try to help you with the most common writing difficulties. One mistake I see over and over is apostrophe misuse, particularly with regard to pronouns.

The confusion stems from our use of apostrophes to show possession as in, “John’s autobiography is very interesting.??? But notice what happens when we replace “John??? with a pronoun: “His autobiography is very interesting.??? The apostrophe disappears, because possessive pronouns like “his??? do not use apostrophes. “It,??? “your??? and “whose” are pronouns, too, so as possessives—indicating belonging to someone or something— they need no apostrophe: “The cat licked its paws???; “I enjoyed reading your memoirs; Whose book is this????

However, contractions also take apostrophes: “Sue’s [Sue has] finished writing her memoirs.??? When we replace “Sue??? with a pronoun, this time the apostrophe remains: “She’s [She has] finished writing her memoirs.??? All contractions with pronouns work the same way: “It’s [It has] been a nice day???; “You’re [You are] doing a great job???; Who’s [Who is] at the door?” So when you want to use a confusing pronoun—its/it’s; your/yours/you’re; their/theirs/they’re; whose/who’s—determine whether to apply the apostrophe form by testing whether you can replace the word with two words meaning the same thing.

Photo: © Alexandr Tkachuk