Still focusing on the essay, “How to Write a Memoir” by William Zinsser, let’s discuss one of the essay’s central themes—gathering up all of your life’s major stories. When you think of your memoir in that way, it’s easier to structure. Tackle one story at a time just as you lived one episode at a time, and when you’re finished you will have described an entire life. It’s also more interesting to the reader than going through year by year and giving a laundry list of your schools, romances, workplaces and favorite foods.
In the essay, Zinsser advises, “Your biggest stories will often have less to do with their subject than with their significance—not what you did in a certain situation, but how that situation affected you and shaped the person you became.” So consider the person you are and how you would want your great-great-grandchildren to think of you. Then think back to your life’s stories that developed that person.
We’re all a product of our time, so include colorful anecdotes that help the reader envision the setting. Perhaps you’ll describe your dad’s car or the outfit your mother wore to church or bicycling by yourself all over the countryside at a young age. If you feel that your birth order helped to shape you, write about your interactions with your siblings and parents. If the army changed your outlook, recall a couple of pivotal stories from that time rather than detailing everywhere you went. If you had to choose one influence that really helped to define you, what would it be? Keep that influence in mind as you write.