Everyone seems to have a story to tell, and more often than not, it is the story of one’s own life. As a ghostwriter, people approach me all the time for assistance with their memoirs. Here’s some advice to consider before you even begin the process. First, ask yourself, why I am writing this book, and what is the legacy that I hope it leaves for posterity?
The answers may be surprising. A lot of aspiring writers don’t even realize it, but their chief aim in telling their story is to right perceived “wrongs” of the past. They concentrate a great deal of time and energy in their memoir trying to “set the record straight.” They go into painstaking detail of bitter feuds and rivalries of years gone by…not surprisingly with themselves cast as the victim.
Any author who sets out down this path should seriously consider the wisdom of it. To begin with, most readers won’t know enough about the situation to truly care about it. The author is looking for sympathy, but is just as likely to come across as vindictive and petty. It’s a risk not worth taking, in my opinion, not to mention that such books tend to be really boring.
I’m not saying that memoirs should avoid unpleasant topics and the more bitter aspects of life. To the contrary, these are necessary to paint a realistic view of the ups and downs that characterize just about all of our lives. However, the overall tone of a good memoir relates harsh incidents not to somehow “get even” or “prove” the author’s case to the world, but rather to teach a valuable lesson of how he or she handled life’s adversity and kept on moving forward despite of it. The strongest memoirs, those which leave a lasting impression upon their readers, know how to deliver an uplifting, perhaps even inspiring message without ever becoming overly preachy or pedantic.
This goal for writing your own story may sound simple, but in practice it’s much more difficult than it initially appears. A memoir is not just a journal, or a bland recitation of life’s events. It’s an invitation to share a lifetime of dreams and achievements, of failures and heartbreak, as well as the many lessons that life itself teaches. The best memoirs take the high road, and bring the reader right along with them.