Memoir-writing tips from a professional editor and historian
Writing the history of your life, family, or other subject close to your heart
is rewarding--and challenging. To help maximize the rewards and meet the challenges, here are some tips to take you from planning to print:
- Find a space exclusively for writing--a room, corner, or even the end of a table.
- Set aside a time to write, and stick to it.
- If you've followed the sidebar hint about organization and are still "blocked" on your project, write something else--key words, phrases,
a letter, anything--"blocks" disappear with practice.
- Once you've gotten started, aim to make your writing clean and readable. See "Good Manuscript Housekeeping" and other articles on writing and style in my information series, Writing for Publication.
- Don't rely on memory alone for inspiration--collect photos, letters, clippings, and other memorabilia; consult reference works to verify dates and events.
- Use a filing system for notes and ideas--according to preference, notebooks, card indexes, or computer files all do the trick.
- Work from an outline--it may be chronological, thematic, or a combination of both.
- Learn your trade--read published memoirs, biographies, and histories, as well as reviews in papers like the New York Times Book Review
and Quill & Quire.
- Consult works like:
- Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir.
- Lois Daniel, How to Write Your Own Life Story.
- Janet T. Dixon, Preserving Your Past.
- Ruth Latta, Life Writing.
- Nancy Smith, Writing Your Life Story.
- Avoid vanity presses--investigate appropriate ways to achieve publication. For an introduction to self-publishing, click here... To investigate conventional publishing, see the information sources listed under Guides to agents and publishers