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Writing your memoir? What should it be, for best results?

In the previous blog, we invited you to ask two questions if you were considering writing a memoir: “Why are you writing your memoir? And “Who will read this?” If you have answered that question for yourself, now you can ask what the general direction should be. And no one has better defined that for us than Dr. Darolyn “Lyn” Jones, Education Outreach Director at the Indiana Writers Center and Assistant Teaching Professor, Ball State University Department of English. Lyn has helped would-be memoir writers for many years put their memories and “takes” on life happily on paper. For us at the Hawthorne blog, Lyn has written this:

A memoir is…

  • The extraordinary story of an ordinary person.
  • The extraordinary story of a specific time, place, or event in that ordinary person’s experience. Remember: The ordinary might be the extraordinary; it’s all in how the story is told.
  • Particular and well-chosen anecdotes above others. Skip parts of your life to maintain focus on the extraordinary event, place, or time. Get us to the scene, to the memory that you can’t stop thinking about. A memoir is NOT an autobiography, nor does it proceed evenly in an “I was born” until “the present” format.
  • What the ordinary writer believes is important in her/his life. There should and MUST be an emotional quality to the memoir. Make the ordinary, extraordinary with sensory details. Compose your story so the reader can see, hear, smell, feel, taste, and touch each scene. Lou Gutkind in Keeping it Real, says “A good memoirist makes connections. A good memoirist primary goals is to show us something true about ourselves, about what it means to be human” (p. 116).
  • Your story. Your truth. Hold to that and tell it like you remember it and how you know it to be true.

Dr. Darolyn “Lyn” Jones

Next step: envisioning