How do you write memoir and tell a story that is compelling to you, but might not be to your reader?
Boredom is death for a writer and must be avoided at all cost. When writing memoir, the facts of a person’s life will fall short if that’s all you have to offer. You need something more if you want the story to come to life in the heart, mind, and imagination of the reader.
I’ve been wrestling with this challenge of writing memoir but feel like I’ve been able to take a few baby steps that I have to share with others. One of the stories I have written and soon will publish is the journey I took to recover from a near-fatal motorcycle accident. The second story, which is in the research phase, is to write my 85-year-old father’s memoirs.
The Problem With Writing Memoir
In The Art of Memoir, memoir expert Mary Karr says that no one buys a memoir or reads it to master the cold data of your life. I resonated with that reality. When I told the facts of my accident story, I got sympathy and interest but didn’t connect deeply with my readers.
As I practicing my writing, I noticed certain stories connected while others fell flat. I’m realizing that I need to build a bridge from my reader to my story, and back again.
4 Ways to Build Bridges When Writing Memoir
It's one thing to know you need to build bridges; it's another thing entirely to build them—and build them well. Here are four ways I'm building bridges between my writing and my readers:
1. Find your voice and stay true to it
Your voice is the delivery system for your experience—whether your own story or the one you are telling. My voice is unique and I’m learning to hone it and refine it. For example, when I speak from the heart, with realness, and guide people like a teacher, I connect with my readers.
2. Be honest and authentic in your writing.
Honesty in memoir writing is good medicine. When I admit my weakness and don’t sugar coat deceive the reader with exaggeration or misrepresentation, I land the writing. Honesty and authenticity build the bridge to my story and draw people in, giving permission to teach and show them the way.
3. Relate the memoir to the experiences of others
People need hope when they read our stories. True hope isn’t wishful thinking, but rather a future expectation plus a pathway to get to that destination.
With memoir, when you relate experiences that are common and give hope which includes practical ways to live, encouragement happens. I want people to say: Wow, if he got through that struggle that way, I might also!
4. Share the wisdom of others to add authority
One way to build credibility and bring more authority to your message is to quote people who have walked the journey you’re talking about. I’ve done it by telling the stories of Nelson Mandela and Viktor Frankl. I do it here when talking about the practice of writing.
“As a communicator, your voice matters. More than you realize. We (your audience) are relying on you for your insight and profundity. We need you to poke and prod, not merely pander. You have to be yourself, to speak in a way that is true to you. This is the next step to claiming your life as a writer—taking yourself seriously so your audience will too.”
—Jeff Goins, You Are a Writer
Now Go Build Your Bridge
When you have a story to tell, whether it’s your own or someone else's, it can connect with readers. Find your voice and be true to it. Be honest and authentic. Relate to the experience of others in order to build a bridge. Raise the credibility bar by sharing the wisdom of others.
When you write memoir well, you walk your readers across the bridge to you and back into their life with greater inspiration and understanding of how to be their best.
How do you help readers connect with your personal story? Let us know in the comments.
Pick an event from your life that had an impact (a transition, a loss, a new beginning) and write about it for fifteen minutes without stopping. As you write, imagine someone standing on the other side of a bridge waiting to walk over to you. Make the story compelling. Be honest. Be real. Find a point of connection. Then once you’ve given them something, give them tangible ways to go back into their life and make a difference with what they’ve learned.
When you're done, share your writing in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers.