Seven things I learned from writing and publishing my memoir (Part one- The Story)

This week is the Queensland Writers Festival and as my tiny contribution, I am writing a post a day in a series called seven things I learned from writing and publishing my memoir. This is part one.

1. You need to have a story.

Before you begin work on that great world-changing novel that is your life story, there are three crucial things to consider; story, message, and tone. Today’s blog is about the story.

Like most people, I began my memoir with the stories, but it I had almost finished the first draft when I realised that it was incomplete. It was full of good stories but there was nothing holding it together. There was no reason why anyone would pick it up.

I am not famous enough to attract readers just because of who I am. I needed an overall story that would attract readers. My book would sit on the shelf with some amazing memoirs and there had to be something that would draw people to my book; one overarching story that would connect all the stories into one cohesive whole.

I needed a purpose for my book.

While life is still in progress, it can be hard to decide how to structure your book. Where will you start and where will you finish? What do all the stories of your life have I common? How should you put them together?

My theory is that it should be as much like a novel as possible.

The beginning needs to set the tone, introduce the characters, and make people want to read on.
Unless you were born in a life-raft after your family boat sank in a storm, it is probably best not to start with your birth. After all everyone is born and there is nothing in that to make the reader curious about the rest of your book.

Start with a noteworthy event, or even a bit of drama. This will hook the reader in. You can even start at the end. I began my first book with an idyllic day in the life of a house sitter, and then went on to explain in the rest of the book how I got to that perfect day.

The end needs to tie things up nicely and provide a satisfying conclusion of some sort.

In my book the overall story is one of a life changed forever. I begin my story as a regular working mother and end as a sort of housesitting gypsy living large on a tiny budget and having the most amazing adventures.
Most people prefer a positive approach and a happy ending. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a sad story, just that people need a reason to read through to the end. How did you overcome that tragedy? How did you beat the odds? How did you find meaning in your life after devastating loss?

Unless you choose to write your memoir as a simple collection of stories, there should be an attention grabbing beginning and a satisfying end.

In between, there could be drama and tension, problems and predicaments, or humour and silliness. Try to vary the pace and introduce some elements of the unexpected. Give people a reason to read on at every page, and especially at the end of each chapter.

I learned a lot from my first book and could have done better, but I am particularly happy when people tell me that they read it in one sitting. It means they found something in it worth finishing.

That is the highest praise of all.


Comments welcome. I would love to hear from you.and I read everything..