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Writing Your Memoir and Why It Matters

By Elise Krentzel November 11, 2022 Lifestyle

Have you ever thought about journaling or writing down the most intimate events of your life?

Events that caused a cathartic shift in your perception and thought process, or ones that scared the living daylights out of you or left an indelible mark? If you have, consider hunkering down to begin a process you will not regret.

Although it is an option, you don’t need to publish a book to record your life, whether good, bad, or ugly. Anyone can self-publish their story. I encourage people to write stories because it matters. Why does your account matter? It could be purgative whether you are single, married, or divorced, with children.

“I’m not a writer,” I always hear people say. You don’t have to be! Record your thoughts on your phone or use the built-in mic in Google. You don’t need to be Jane Austen or Margaret Atwood.

How to Begin Writing

Do you have a solid basis for your story?

The way to determine if you do is to analyze the significant event(s) that shaped you. The first thing you want to do is to define a timeline from birth until your current age. Think about the most significant events that impacted your life, both positive and negative.

Give a name to each event and attach a date (year) to it. Please put it on the timeline. Next, you’ll want to take a deeper look at each event by identifying the characters who influenced you: yourself, parents, siblings, friends, peers, teachers, religious or community leaders, or strangers encountered along the way.

Can you recall the traumatic events of your life?

Sometimes it is hard to remember as our mind blocks them out for survival purposes. Is that true for you? If so, sitting quietly and meditating – whether to a candle flame or reciting a mantra – will enable the memories to pour forth. I could define the traumatic events that escaped my conscious mind by calming my mind.

Here’s a laundry list of my traumas: childhood near-death experience, sexual molestation at five years old, consistent screaming and yelling in my household growing up, being hit repeatedly in the face and on my backside, parents divorcing, mother remarrying my first boyfriend’s older brother, discovering my mother is an alcoholic and father a sex addict, verbal and emotional abuse, and attempted suicide. Do you want more?

Write down and attach the most influential person(s) related to, or those who caused, the event on the timeline. Now you have a timeline of events by date and the people involved.

Jog Your Memory

Do you find it hard to jog your memory, or are there years of your life you can’t remember?

Here are some tips for jogging your memory. The best way to uncover how the people and events molded you is to ask questions from an objective perspective. Take a look at these to help peel back the onion layers of your life.

Use these questions for each timeline event. Before asking and answering these questions, think about the emotions of each significant character in your timeline. Write out a one-word feeling for each of them. For example, mother/jealous, father/domineering, husband/aloof, etc.

  1. How old were you when X happened?
  2. Where were you physically located during this event?
  3. Who was near you? What did they do?
  4. What can you recall about the smell and the surrounding environment?
  5. What music was playing in the background?
  6. How did the main character make you feel? Describe in as much detail as you can conjure up.
  7. Is there anything X said to you that still stands out in your mind today?

Theme Exploration

Is there a thread or constant theme that keeps popping up in your life? After you’ve poured out your heart and absorbed the impact of the events that “made you” who you are today, reflect on the themes of your life. Write down these themes if there is one constant theme, such as betrayal, or several, such as lousy partner choices, fear of failure, and others.

In a follow-up blog, we will explore what happens after the themes are examined. That will enable you to determine how to piece together the patchwork of a book. Think about memoir writing in the same way as writing a novel. The difference is that your story happened to you.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you want to start writing a memoir but don’t know where to begin? Have you wondered about the process? Are you interested in learning more?

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Jessica

I have always wanted to write my story. My father was very encouraging always telling me what a god writer I am. However, when I start to think about writing it and I have started, I think it is so ME, ME, ME! Won’t it be boring for someone to read about me? I will go back to what I started and do what you said about the timeline etc. Those are great suggestions. Thank you.

Elise

Of course it’s about you however once you start with events and then look at characters and start writing it like a novel you will be able to branch out. Good luck do you have more questions feel free to talk about them

Elaine Rayford

What is the differece between writing a memoir and keeping a journal?

Elise Krentzel

A huge difference. Keeping a journal is basically pouring out freeform anything you’re feeling or thinking or both. Writing a memoir is a much more in depth endeavor because there is structure, outlines, plots, arc to the story, seams, events, and characters. You’re also giving voice and dialogue in a memoir. In other words a memoir should read like a novel even though it is based on a persons life. That said it doesn’t have to be 100% true. Facts can be embellished.

Paula Usrey

I meant to say themes rather than ’empowerment’ in the comment I just posted :)

Paula Usrey

I appreciate the practical advice you shared. I especially liked what you said about themes. I just finished writing my first book about empowerment for women 50+. After writing that first book, I realized that I feel passionate about writing for women who are at least fifty years old. The book I am working on right now is primarily about finding empowerment in widowhood. I now realize that the theme of empowerment is central to my life.

I related to what you shared about your childhood. I am planning to write a memoir after finishing my current project. Your suggestion about timelines and the significance of events at different periods was quite helpful. I still need to understand how to take a theme and use it to drive my personal story. I’ll be interested to see if you say more about empowerment in your next piece. Thanks again for this article.

Elise Krentzel

Typically what would you like to read about in the next blog? I am going to discuss the arc or plot of the story and how you weave the seams into that. I’m open to suggestions so please let me know.

Last edited 2 months ago by Elise Krentzel
Cindy

I’ve been thinking about doing something like this and appreciate the how tos- they were helpful! As a mental health professional I would add that if/as soon as readers begin to find remembering their trauma very distressing or overwhelming, they should stop, and not proceed with that particular event/person/time in their life without additional support of some kind. (Therapist, workbook, support group, etc). Don’t repeatedly push yourself to remember trauma in detail if it feels like you are reliving it, and being traumatized again.
Also, I would encourage people to include the positive things that shaped them as well. We’ve all had both good and bad!

Elise Krentzel

Truer words have not been spoken.
The act of remembering itself doesn’t just happen overnight, at least it didn’t for me. However writing doesn’t just happen again like one endless river. You start you go you stop you flow and you carry on meanwhile processing all along.

The Author

Elise Krentzel is an author, ghostwriter, communications entrepreneur, and book coach. She has lived in 5 countries and is the mother of one son. Her first book, Under My Skin – Drama, Trauma & Rock ‘n’ Roll is available for sale. She’s currently working on her second book, Men Moving Me.

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