Some Suggestions for Beginning Memoir Writers Print
Writing Workshops

Some Suggestions to Prime the Memoir Pump:


Emotionally, what would you like to know or learn about others or yourself by writing this memoir?

What was your emotional condition during the phase or period you want to write about? How have you changed since then?

Think of three different people with whom you have had intimate relationships during your life and write a page about each one but in a voice or tone (angry, sad, comic) that expresses the essence of that relationship—the goal is that the three voices are different.

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What scares you or excites you in writing about intimate relationships?

What is it that will be universal about your story and what is it that will be individual, that is, yours and yours only?

What kinds of material can you and can you not read to a class? What kinds of material can you or can you not read to your family or friends? Why?

What kind of hero are you of your life? Are you someone else’s hero? Is someone else the hero and you are part of his or her story?

How are you today similar to or different from the person you were at the time you’re recalling?

Describe in detail one mistake or hardship that you once lived with?

What kinds of regret or anger or blame or self-pity or embarrassment do you feel today about the subject you want to focus on?

To what degree is this memoir about you and to what degree is this memoir about others who influenced the person you’ve become? Who are these people and why are they so important to you? (Some memoirists share their stories with another.)

Choose one or two of the larger political, cultural, ethnic, or social events of the time or phase you are recalling and write about them factually but in your own voice.

Mark Doty begins his memoir, Firebird, with a quotation from Hugo von Hofmannsthal: "Where is your Self to be found? Always in the deepest enchantment that you have experienced." Write about your deepest enchantment. Would it make a good subject for a memoir?

Make a list of three things that you have experienced in the last five to ten years which you will not write about because . . . because . . . why would it be a good idea not to write about them?

 

Some Possible Beginnings for the Memoir:


What are some possible places to begin?

Pick a day from whatever time or phase you’re writing about and tell an incident that happened.

Describe a place and then tell an incident that happened in that place.

Pick a person with whom you experienced something on a particular day, describe the person, and then tell the incident.

Start off trying to describe a particular feeling you had at a time or a place or with another person or when you were alone. Let it develop as memory, freely associating, then follow the associations.

Give a particular social or historical background to a time and a place, then place yourself in it.

Imagine a scene about yourself or someone you want to write about. Either you can’t recall it or you feel that by imagining the scene, the truth of it will come back to you. Begin with the phrase: I imagine.

Begin at the beginning of something and after a few pages deliberately go off on a tangent for another few pages, then return to where you began. Write about what taking that tangent meant for another few pages.

Write a couple of paragraphs of introduction or explanation, then begin a dialogue between you and another; or overhear a dialogue between two others, which is about you but may be either direct or indirect.

Write about a time you were the closest to another person; write about a time you were the most distant from another.

Write about doing something you loved doing, something habitual; then write about the day the love of doing that one thing changed.

State a particular truth you know about yourself or the world: write the incident in which you learned this truth.