There is a certain truth you must realize when writing a memoir: You are the central character in the story, therefore you must write about who you are. You cannot assume that the reader knows you, even if they are a close relative.

Writing a memoir is your opportunity in life to share the real you, to share your point of view about your life. It is not easy to reveal our true selves to any audience, so I am going to provide you with some exercises to make the task easier.

Write About Yourself in the Third Person

Step out of yourself and write about yourself in the third person. You can change the point of view back to the first person before you publish your book, but writing in the third person is important as it gives you a healthy distance from yourself. It allows you to write about your character as if you are writing about another person.

 
 

Try it. Take a piece of paper and introduce the main character – you – at the beginning of your book, in the third person. Show character details: appearance, mannerisms, fears, strengths, private thoughts. Focus on how you would tell a stranger about this person.

You will discover that it magically becomes someone else you are writing about. Don’t worry about the final result, use this tool to show the true you, the you that it might be difficult to write about in the first person.

Photos

Photos can help you dig into the past and discover truths about yourself and the characters in your life story. Find a picture of yourself and at least one other person that is relevant to what you are writing about. Keep in mind that spontaneous shots yield richer material.

Find a quiet place and take time to explore what the sub-text in the picture reveals about you and the characters in your life story. Reflect on the questions below, and make sure you write down all of the thoughts that spin in your head on a piece of paper. Immediate thoughts are often the richest.

  • Search for non-verbal cues. Who is touching whom, and how? Is someone comfortable or uncomfortable? Is there a gap between certain people? What is the gap saying?
  • If the people could move where would they move to? What are the individual people thinking? Remember, you are allowed these thoughts as your memoir is your point of view of the life you have lived.
  • What could have happened in their lives before the photo, what will happen after?
  • Can you see joy, fear, ambition, sorrow in their eyes?
  • Write about the person – including yourself! – behind the face.

The Words You Use

You are the main character in your memoir, and the words you use mirror who you are. They provide the reader with the material for them to understand your character.

The words show how you view all aspects of your life: friends, family, self-image, career, religion, politics, to name but a few.

The words you use must interpret your version of the world.

Remember the expression, ‘some people see the glass half full, others half empty.’ Make sure through your choice of words you show your version of the glass. Do not give the reader the opportunity to decide how you view that glass.

When you use words to describe an emotional state – for example, jealous, angry, happy, etc. ­– describe your version of those words. Everyone has their own interpretation of emotions.

Anger can be an annoying anger or a raging anger where I could not control telling the person what I thought about them. Do not let other people’s interpretation of those words decide who you are.

This is your opportunity to show the real you, so take the time to reveal yourself and how you view life from your perspective. Make sure the words you use mirror your point of view.

If this is the first Sixty and Me article you have read about memoir writing, please check out one of my previous articles on the topic. If you have any questions, please reach out to me.

Have you ever considered writing your memoir? Do you think writing a memoir would be a positive experience at this stage of your life? Please share your thoughts below.

Jill MorrisJill Morris is a life story writing coach and memoir teacher, who is passionate about her calling. She has written her own memoir, Eating the Walls, and currently teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University, East Bay and community centers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

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