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 five.
5. Leave out the boring details
I was born in Malta and moved to New Zealand with my family when I was three years old. I went to Paekakariki School, and then my family moved to Tawa where we lived for six years.
Are you bored yet?
Would you like me to tell you how many brothers and sisters I have? Do you want to know the names of my pets or the whereabouts of my grandparents? How about what day I wash my hair?
Now that’s just silly.
A memoir is not an excuse to write everything that happens in your life, blow by blow. Every story in your book should have a reason to be there. It could show the reader more about you as a person. It could be an insight into your family dynamics. It could be funny, or crazy, or even tragic.
Having an overall story for your book, a subtle message, and a suitable tone, is a good start. It will provide a framework and help you decide what to put in and what to leave out. When I edited my book, I left out some stories I thought were really good because they did not fit in with the overall message and tone of my book.
I remember reading the story of one of the most amazing and inspiring people I had ever seen in a video. His energy and enthusiasm were infectious and I loved him but I found the book about him just plain boring. There was no insight into him or his personality, just a series of not particularly inspiring events that happened in his life. I was so disappointed.
One of the little tricks I used in my books was to cut out some unnecessary information that slowed the story down. Rather than have lots of filler sentences like “a few months later” or “another time” or “the next time I was out on my bike,” I sometimes used creative licence and wrote as if the events happened on the same day.
It helped the stories flow well, and no one really cares when they happened since my stories are not consecutive anyway.
If you are writing for the public then you should try a little harder to make each story a solid contribution to the books overall theme. If you find that too much work then you have another option.
You could write your book for family and friends. They may be fascinated to know where you were born and what school you went to. They might even want to know the names of all your childhood pets.
That is a perfectly valid reason to write a book.
PS One of the articles that inspired me when I was editing my book was an article by Abigail Thomas and featured on Oprah.com. She has some really good ideas about how to start writing a memoir and what to say. You can visit the article by clicking here.
Tomorrows blog: Write with Passion and Enthusiasm