Writing the Memoir


Outtakes 185

Writing the Memoir

by Cait Collins

What is the best way to prepare to write a memoir? Like any other genre, there are numerous approaches to researching and writing a personal story. The following are a few suggestions for getting started.

Write from memory. I began writing Tables and First Love Forever Love by drafting chapters based on my memories of events, places, and people. After completing the draft, I’d read and edit the piece, making notes of facts I needed to check. I’d research the missing information, make the necessary changes, and polish the chapter before presenting it to my critique group. I find getting the basics on paper and then filling in details works best for me.

Go through family photo albums to get inspiration. Sometimes there is a glimmer of an idea for a scene, but the memories just don’t click. A picture can jog the memory and spark your imagination. With the photograph nearby, the writing flows and soon you have a draft of the chapter.

Look for letters, journals, school memorabilia, and yearbooks that might lend insight into your project. My father’s military papers and his notes and writings have been as valuable as I write Tables.

Music is a good trigger. Download some of the songs from your youth and listen to them while you work. If you are describing how you met your spouse, sit back and enjoy “your song” or the music played at your prom.

If you think you would like to write a memoir for your children and grandchildren, try journaling. I’m not suggesting you write about putting carrots in the crock pot on a daily basis; however, keeping notes about vacations, holidays, and special events will help you when you begin to write your story.

Getting started may be the hard part, but once you determine your theme and the events you want to record, the project will move along quickly. The memories will flow and you’ll find yourself laughing and crying as you write. That’s good because those emotions will translate to the writing. Just remember to focus on the reason you are working on the memoir, and let that be your guide.