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How to Write a Memoir: Answers to Your Questions from the Call

book writing classbook writing teleseminarWow, we had a great call on how to get started writing a book on Tuesday. We received 224 comments and questions when people registered. So, as you might imagine, we hardly scratched the surfacing in answering in our 1 hour call. Over the next few weeks, I’ll answer as many questions as I can, grouped by topic. If you find your topic, but not your question, just ask as a comment below and I promise to answer. And feel free to ask new questions as they get sparked!

Stephany asked, “How to Start a Memoir?” Well, without knowing your story, I can’t completely guess, but let’s just say start with something that will grab your readers–one of the most dramatic moments in the book is a good spot–even if that means backing up and telling much of the book as flashback. Another option is to start somewhere that reveals quite a bit about one of the characters (perhaps you) and gets readers curious to know more. Specific and quirky details, a powerful “voice” and strong characterizations will all help draw readers in, Stephany.

David asked, “For biographical books… autobiography or novel? Pros and cons?” Kate and Carmen asked similar questions. We could spend an hour asking this alone, but here’s the short version:

1. Memoir is probably slightly easier to sell (and promote).

2. Novel is slightly harder to write (in general).

3. Novel will allow you to change anything you want so you are not so wedded to “the truth.”  It can also protect people that might be more easily identified in a memoir.

4. A novel can protect you from a lawsuit, though there is no guarantee—run it by an attorney if you are concerned.

Hope that helps. Any of my writer/editor colleagues want to chime in on this one?

Rosa asked: “Can you talk about the process of writing the memoir…it is certainly not a linear process but every part of the story is powerful and necessary. Also, how to approach flashbacks when writing this type of work…Thank you.”
Rosa, It’s easier to write a story that’s fairly linear, but flashbacks can certainly add texture to the story. Here are a few tips:

1. Start at a point of drama: this will draw in your readers. You can start with a dramatic point for a few pages or a chapter and then go into the deeper past where you want to begin the telling of the story.

2. Don’t nest a flashback within another flashback or readers will get lost.

stuart horwitz3. My colleague Stuart Horwitz once said something like, “You can have a flashback but don’t fall in love with the past so much that the reader loses the sense of the reading present.” So, most of the story should take place in the “linear” arena and the flashbacks should not get too long that the reader loses their sense of where they are.

4. Make sure that everything in the book supports the theme. If you’re writing about your spiritual journey, a story about your sister’s wedding that does not relate—no matter how funny or entertaining, for instance—may not fit well with the theme. Leave it for another book or a blog post. Don’t force something that doesn’t fit.

Please, share your questions below on how to write a memoir and I will answer. Other questions? Feel free to ask or wait until I get to that subject over the next couple weeks…

Missed the call? Listen here to Jump Start Your Book.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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