What Where You Thinking When - Memoir Writing Tips

Memoirs Need Emotions - Writing Advice
What is the difference between a memoir and a textbook retelling of history? The most significant difference is that memoirs dive deeper into the thought process of the storyteller. When you write your autobiography, include your past thoughts to help your readers understand the decisions you made. It makes for a more powerful story and shares details that no genealogical record will ever have.

When I wrote From Metal to Rhinestons: A Quest for the Crown, I started relating the factual account of my participation in various competitions such as what I wore, what I said, how I looked, and how I placed in the end. The details fit the scrapbook storytelling format because by nature the journaling in these albums should be brief. However, a memoir needs to relate more profound emotions and connect with the senses that can not be revealed in photos and news reports. I needed to transport myself through time and place myself in my mind at the time I competed or prepared for each competition.

My memoir included tips from this article
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 I needed to answer questions such as these:
  • What did I think when I made my clothing selections? 
  • How did I feel about my trainers or lack of training? 
  • How did I feel as I strutted on stage in my gowns and stood next to the other delegates? 
  • What did I think about the people in my audience? 
The list goes on and can apply to every thought I felt through the entire pageant process, as well as off-stage experiences.
  • What was on my mind as a teenager in high school? 
  • How could I balance my participation in these events and the pressures and schedule conflicts? 
  • Why did I not tell my friends I was in these competitions? 
  • Why did I invite the cute guy on the drum line to come to my pageant but no one else?
Each thought provides deep-felt insights for the memoir. My readers will benefit from being inside my head through this experience and may see the same thought patterns in themselves. By sharing my thoughts, my family can learn to appreciate me but also learn from my past. Moreover, a more extensive audience can identify with the story because the musings and emotions are relatable.

As I wrote my thoughts, I realized just how naive or juvenile the ideas were. I am 20 years removed from those experiences, and I can see other sides of the story. Things that I could not understand or fathom back then.

Should I include the thoughts that likely had an incorrect perspective?

Let's take the question from a different angle. Does anyone interpret every situation correctly at the time? We are not the narrator in a novel who sees everyone accurately. We are the leading character who does not know every viewpoint and sometimes we are wrong. Just as we love when main characters misread a situation, a memoir benefits from including the thoughts we had, even if they were false or ignorant. By sharing our perspective at the time, again we reveal why we reacted the way we did.

For instance, I recorded an experience when I felt slighted by my pageant director. I was the winner; however, the winner and a few finalists participated in the next level competition under the oversight of our director. As the winner, I should take top preference and the most efforts. That is the benefits of winning.

However, I felt I was receiving an inferior, less supportive treatment in preference for another finalist. Was I wrong? Did I misinterpret the situation? Am I slandering or disparaging the director?

Perhaps, but that is not the purpose of a memoir. The objective of the life story writing is to understand my thoughts and how those perceptions affected my choices and reactions. We need to record or inner feelings and ideas because then a reader can understand why I felt so much confusion when I competed at the next level of competition. Knowing the mindset of the competitor adds compelling details, in addition to revealing whether I won or not.

Include your past thoughts in your personal history projects to help your readers understand the decisions you made. Your thoughts create a more powerful story and add details that no genealogical record will ever share.


 For those who enjoy watching a video more than reading a blog post, I share these thoughts and more in the following video.

2 comments:

  1. IMHO, the purpose of a memoir is to also show the arch of your life in that time. How did each experience contribute to the person you were becoming and the person you are today? What challenged you and how did you react? Learning more is why I find memoirs so compelling.

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    1. Thanks Marian. So glad to have met you in person at RootsTech.

      I also appreciate your support of memoir writing. It's important to see the arch of our life. We have to 'time travel' and be an objective observer and then we can see how that impacted our lives later (or later in a book). I appreciate the questions you listed to consider when writing.

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