When you write about yourself, use these tips from journalists to write a better memoir.
If you’re struggling to write your memoir, you can use these tips from journalists to help you. Sometimes, using a methodical approach can get you organised and motivated to continue with your life story.
7 Tips From Journalists To Write A Better Memoir
1. Do Your Research First
Journalists make sure they have all the facts they need before they start writing their story. This saves time when they are writing the article. If a question about a location or a person crops up, they can refer to their notes.
You should do the same for your memoir. Gather everything you can about your story. Make a file for the paperwork, including photographs, invitations, newspaper articles, etc. Visit the locations, interview everybody, make life lists, create timelines, and research the years you will be writing about.
2. Use Your Interviews
When journalists use quotations from people involved in a story, it makes it more authentic. Their differing perspectives make the story more interesting and relatable.
Use the interviews with other people in your story to make your memoir more layered and interesting. If you have spoken to a few people who were involved, you can offer their reactions to what happened at the time. For example, an uninterested neighbour could show how alone or misunderstood you felt.
3. Organise Your Information
Journalists create electronic files or work from boards and files with all the information they need in front of them. They create a timeline if they need one. Then they start writing from the beginning to the end.
You need to do the same for your memoir. Take all the information you have gathered from the first two points and organise it. You may prefer to work from a pin board with all your information on index cards, or from files you have created over the years. You may want to use an electronic organisation system.
4. Find Your Angle (Theme)
Journalists always find an angle to every story. You need to find yours for your memoir. This angle is essentially the theme that will become the backbone of your story. It is the lens through which you tell your story. Every scene you write in the book should reflect this angle/theme in some ways.
Remember that a memoir is not your autobiography. It is a slice of your life linked together by this theme.
5. Start Strong
Journalists always begin a story strongly. They orient readers quickly. They use the inverted pyramid to tell you who they are talking about, where it is happening, when it is happening, and what is happening. They ask why it happened and try to find out how it happened. Readers don’t feel lost.
Do the same with your memoir. Do not leave the reader floundering and guessing. Tell us who you are, where you are, when it is, and what is happening. The rest of the memoir can be used to answer ‘why’ and ‘how‘ it happened.
Journalists know that they need to establish a mood by choosing a tone for the story. You must do the same. For example, if you want your readers to feel a sense of loss, your tone should be empathetic and tragic.
6. Write Well
Journalists know how to write. They use techniques to grab a reader’s attention and to keep it. They write their longer articles like stories.
You need to do this too. Just because you are writing a real story, it does not mean that you can get away with writing badly. This is not a journal. It is a memoir that you want other people to read. Start imagining yourself as a fictional character and plot your memoir. Include conflict and dialogue in your scenes and sequels.
7. Edit Everything
Journalists often have proofreaders and editors to check their writing. They produce a polished, professional end product.
You must do the same for your memoir. Get a professional edit if you can afford it. If not, put the manuscript aside for a month. This gives you time to look at the book you’ve written with fresh eyes, then start working on your rewrites and edit. You will also need to proofread.
Read: 12 Steps To Self-Editing
Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.
by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson
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