Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

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.

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.

Never Too Early to Start on Your Memoirs

blog9At 17, Olympic gymnast and “Dancing With the Stars??? champ Shawn Johnson announced that she’s considering writing a sequel to her 2008 photo memoir. If you haven’t had quite the blue-ribbon-packed life that Shawn has, you probably aren’t thinking about publishing your life story once, much less twice, while still in your teens. But you might not want to wait until your golden years, either.

For some people, a memoir is the natural extension of the baby book they’ve been keeping after the birth of their children. They’ve gotten accustomed to documenting the little events that occur, the triumphs and the disappointments, and when baby outgrows the baby book they simply either continue to keep a record for the child or transfer the energy to their own journaling. If not a birth, perhaps a graduation, new career, marriage, illness, death of a loved one, move to a new city or major birthday is what triggers the desire to get the facts down or express your impressions and emotions.

I think starting early is a great idea. First of all, the memory is so unreliable! Time robs us of the details that bring texture to daily life, and sometimes we even forget the who/what/where/when essentials. Second, starting early keeps us from being overwhelmed when faced with an entire lifetime to recapture. And the process of memoir writing is so rewarding that once they get going, a lot of people wish they’d given themselves the gift of reflection sooner. No time like the present!

Candor in Memoirs: Don’t Ask, but Do Tell?

blog8You’ve probably heard about the disturbing revelations Mackenzie Phillips bares in her new memoir. According to reports, many of her family members are not pleased that she decided to do this, and some don’t even believe her account of the events. As you sit down to write your own life story, are there details you’d like to include that you feel might hurt family members or friends?

You may find that this is one of the toughest decisions you’ll make as you proceed with your writing. Maybe your daughter doesn’t want your grandson to know that you smoked when you were a teenager. Perhaps apprising everyone about an early first marriage will be upsetting to them. Or you may be second-guessing a passage that, in simply communicating your impressions and opinions, recalls Cousin Pat in a less-than-flattering description. Maybe the “dirty laundry??? you’re airing isn’t even your own, and someone will feel betrayed that you’ve let a cat out of the bag.

Only you can weigh other people’s feelings against how important it is to you to be fully candid as you write your memoirs. Your name is on this, and others all have the same opportunity to state their own case if they so choose. Here at WriteMyMemoirs, we’d love to hear how our autobiographers are handling this aspect. Comment on this post if you’d like to share.

Photo: © Renata Osinska

Dick Cheney’s Memoir Highly Anticipated

blog4Last time I talked about why it might be appropriate for some people to infuse a little politics in their memoirs. But when you’re a political figure, obviously your autobiography will focus heavily on your views. The next one to offer up this type of book is Former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Scheduled for publication in 2011 by Threshold Editions, the memoir will be Cheney’s first book about his long career in government. Cheney recently told the AP, “I’m persuaded there are a lot of interesting stories that ought to be told. I want my grandkids, 20 or 30 years from now, to be able to read it and understand what I did, and why I did it.??? At Write My Memoirs, we hear that same sentiment from the everyday folk who use our site. Our members want their grandchildren to understand what life was like for them, and that can include the reasoning behind their opinions, voting or perhaps political activism.

Interestingly, it’s been reported that Cheney’s daughter Liz is the one who put the “bug in his ear??? about writing an autobiography. Liz Cheney told the Washington Post, “You have to think about his love of history.??? Backing up her dad’s own statement about the motivation behind writing it, she adds, “When he thinks about this memoir, he thinks about it as a book his grandchildren will read.???


Then just set up a chapter and start writing your memoir. Don’t worry about rules. There are no rules to writing your memoir; there are only trends. These trends are based on techniques and features identified in current top-selling memoirs. At best, they’re the flavor of the month. If you’re capturing your life in print for your family, for your own gratification or to inspire readers, rather than aiming to set off Hollywood screenplay bidding wars, these trends don’t even apply to you. You’ll write the memoir that suits you best, and it will be timeless, not trend-driven.There are no rules, but there are four steps:

1. Theme/framework
2. Writing
3. Editing/polishing
4. Self-publishing

You’ve researched this, too, and you’ve been shocked at the price for getting help with any one of those steps, much less all four. That’s because most memoir sites promise to commercialize your work. They’ll follow a formula based on current memoir trends, because they want to convince you that they can turn your memoir into a best-seller. These sites overwhelm you with unnecessary information not to help you, the memoir author, but to address Search Engine Optimization (SEO) algorithms so they can sell more.

That’s not what we do at Write My Memoirs. Our small community of coaches, writers and editors are every bit as skilled as any you’ll find, and we charge appropriately for their expertise and the time they’ll spend helping you craft a compelling, enjoyable read. But you won’t pay an upcharge for other websites’ commercialization, the marketing that follows, and the pages of intimidating “advice.” You can sell your book if you like—we have ISBNs available for you—but our organic process of capturing your story takes a noncommercial path.

If you want help with any or all of the four steps above, choose from our services or save money by selecting one of our packages. If you’d like to talk about what’s right for you, schedule a call. One year from now, you can be holding your published memoir in your hand. And at that point, it will be a big deal!