How To Write a Memoir
By Chris Brockman
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Several years ago, when I decided I wanted to write a book, I took the proverbial long walk and pondered what I could write about.Â I considered that I knew a little about a lot of things and had some serious opinions about quite a few of them.Â As I thought of one thing after another that I would like to write about, the same disincentive kept popping up--I'd have to do a lot of research to become expert enough to write anything credible.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Then, it occurred to me to apply the writer's rule number one:Â Write what you know.Â What I knew best, what I was an authority on, was my own life; a memoir might be a perfect choice.Â Two objections presented themselves to me right away.Â The first:Â memoirs were very popular at the time.Â What if the memoir bubble burst before I could finish my own?Â I'd have to get to work and finish fast, I thought. Second, why would my memoir be of interest to a broad audience, and how could I make it be?
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The first of these has taken care of itself.Â Though it took me years to complete my project, memoirs are hotter than ever.Â Besides, as I worked on my project, got deeperÂ into the time and place where I grew up, I no longer cared if my book would be a commercial success.Â It would be my book and my life, and I had something to say about my life that was important.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The answer to the second question worked itself out as I walked on.Â I was a Baby Boomer, andÂ I shared that with tens of millions of other Boomers. We were a distinct and distinctive group that had exercised a significant influence on our world since our inception.Â As a Baby Boomer, I could write about growing up as a Baby Boomer.Â The more I thought about it, the more I figured that my own experience was exemplary of the experiences of my generation.Â I had a project.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The task, then, was to figure out a way to write it.Â I personally didn't care for the way many memoirists did and still do add fictional elements to embellish their factual lives. To me, to be meaningful as a memoir, my own needed to be as close to the truth as possible.Â I only needed to choose which things about my growing up I thought were significant and exercise the writer's art in presenting them.Â A critical factor in this would be picking things that were likely to be shared experiences with and would provoke memories in my target audience, Baby Boomers.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I decided to limit my time frame to only up to about fifteen or sixteen years old.Â Then, I organize my recollections by categories, such as my home place, my immediate environment, the jobs I'd had, my young loves, and so on.Â These would be like bins I could put like memories into.Â They also were general categories that I shared with anyone from my generation and others as well.Â Into each would go my own particular memories that would make each shared category my own.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â With this format in mind, I began to access and write about things that were important to me growing up.Â I mostly wrote in one category at a time, though logical revision resulted in switching some memories from one category to another and adding a few new ones.Â I also checked out my memories and supplemented them by chatting with some of my Â older relatives in person and on the phone.Â This whole process took several years, and in the interim, one of my aunts, one of my uncles, and at least one of my old neighbors, who were sources of information, passed away.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Another critical element was to apply analysis and evaluation to the history I was writing.Â I chose to use tone principally and eschew outright analysis.Â This was already an inherent part of what I was writing.Â The choices I made in what to write about contributed to this, and the way I felt about them came through in word choice and other elements of voice.Â I had some definite opinions about the time and place of my growing up before I started, and these came through the whole as recognizable but not heavy handed themes.Â To me the kind of memoirs that merely recount happenings with no feel for why they were important or what they meant makes for dreary, textbook-like writing and reading.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I applied the final finish and buffed up the manuscript through repeated and meticulous editing and proofreading.Â As a college English instructor, this was extremely important to me.Â I revised and rearranged text so many times that this itself gave rise to a problem.Â To maintain integrity, one change or addition might entail several others elsewhere in the manuscript.Â This was not only true for meaning and avoiding redundancy, adding sentences or changing sentence structure sometimes resulted in grammar and punctuation errors that were difficult to ferret out.Â This took repeated readings, and the problem with that is the mind's eye seeing things the way they should be, rather than how they are.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â In the end, I had a product that passed my own muster of what a memoir should be.Â It was the truth as I saw it, it was comprehensive enough to evoke the big picture, it contained embedded thoughtful reflection on the history it related, and it met my personal standards for coherence and structural and mechanical integrity.Â
Chris Brockman's Growing Up in Boom Times was published in June '11 and is available from the publisher http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookHome.aspx
and Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â