At Write My Memoirs, we sit down with someone’s original writing to polish and professionalize it. Although our authors tend to have little or no professional writing in their background, the quality of their writing can be very good. It’s the structure that often needs work.
We charge by the page, but many editors charge by the hour. To reduce the number of hours your editor will spend on your memoir, proofread it twice. The second time, comb through to find typos and grammar. So what should you proofread for the first time?
On your first full read after writing your memoir, read it the way a reader who has never met you would read it. You’re likely to find two problems that are polar opposites: holes and repetition.
Holes in Your Story
There are big holes, such as leaving out that important incident that occurred during the years you didn’t write about because, mostly, those years were uneventful. Then when you refer to something that was the result of that event, the reader is lost. You should be able to pretty easily spot big holes and fix them.
It’s the micro-holes that may give you trouble. The reader is not looking through your eyes, hearing through your ears, feeling through your skin, smelling with your nose or tasting with your tongue. Unless you mention that you entered the bedroom, the reader doesn’t know where you are. Unless you describe the bitter taste, the reader doesn’t know why you’re wincing. Never leave the reader; take the reader with you.
Micro-holes occur easily in chronology. The reader doesn’t know that three hours went by and wonders why you’re describing a sunset as if it happened right after you described the difficult lunch you had with your siblings. It’s not that the reader can’t figure it out; people understand how a day works. But in the reading process, it feels like a hole.
Authors tend to repeat themselves—and not precisely. Let’s say you were consistently bullied at school. You developed a lot of feelings around that. You resented the way the faculty and administration neglected to come to your defense, you hated yourself for routinely hiding in the bathroom, you felt hungry when kids took your lunch.
So you write about your primary school and also talk about what was happening at home during those early years. You do the same with middle school. You’re probably not dividing your youth into all school, then all home, which is okay. So you may think that every time you return to the school narrative, you have to remind the reader of your feelings yet again. You don’t.
By the time you get to high school, with the bullying continuing, you’re feeling the same feelings you were feeling when you were six years old. Don’t just repeat those feelings, and don’t tweak them with the adjustment of your more grownup view. That’s still repetition.
Go back and edit the primary school chapter to include something simple such as, “That resentment would follow me through to graduation twelve years later.” In your high school chapter, then, describe the incidents themselves. This will show how the bullying changed when you became a teenager. You can cite an earlier incident that the reader will remember, but don’t repeat the whole story of that incident or your feelings.
Storytelling, not Essaying
Your memoir probably has a theme, and it’s tempting to keep driving the theme home in every chapter. There’s an overarching point you’re making—that’s why you’re writing your memoir. But you can’t keep stating it and expect that to compel your reader to continue reading. This isn’t a guest essay; it’s your memoir, a series of small stories, incidents, actions. It’s a lot closer to a fictional story than it is to a term paper.
When you fill your holes and consolidate your repetition, you’ll be saving your editor hours and hours—and probably saving yourself dollars and dollars.