There’s a lot of memoir-writing advice out there. Some of it is good, some is completely obvious (and therefore unhelpful), and some crosses the line into stupid and potentially harmful to your story. A few choice examples of the latter:
Write only about positive experiences. Wrong! Writing a memoir is a courageous endeavor because it means that you’re willing to confront some of the mean, dumb, shortsighted, cowardly things you’ve done in your life. Confronting those experiences shows the reader (and yourself!) how you grew from them. They make for a well-rounded, honest—and therefore interesting—memoir, rather than one that bathes everything in an impossible glow.
You don’t need an outline—it’s your life story, after all! Um, okay. First off, most memoirs don’t encompass an author’s life from birth to the present; that’s the territory of autobiography. Secondly, if you’re going through the effort to share your story through memoir, chances are that that story is not a short, simple one! Which means that you need an outline. You need space to figure out where and when your memoir will begin and end; specific events, moments, and people you intend to write about; the “arc” of the story; and what you hope to accomplish by telling your tale to begin with. Without an outline, you will get lost. And when you do, you may not be able—or willing—to find your way back.
Be brutally honest when writing about other people. This is a confusing one. Yes, you want to be honest when writing about friends, family, and others who have helped shape your life in some way. But you should always be acutely aware that, eventually, those people will read this. So (hopefully) will people they know. There’s no need to claw up someone’s reputation to make your own story more enticing. Use good judgment.
If it’s interesting to you, it’ll be interesting to your reader. No. No, no, no! It’s like telling someone about the bizarre dream you had last night—you’re enthralled, but your poor listener is desperately searching for escape routes. The same holds true with your memoir. Don’t veer off track to relay a funny little anecdote if nothing in that anecdote is significant to the larger story. Your readers won’t care. They’ll lose interest and, worse, their trust in the relevance of your memoir.
Incredibly (or not), all of these pearls of wisdom were found on the Internet. So be cautious and very picky when sifting through memoir-writing advice, whether online or from well intentioned loved ones. Remember: Always consider the source!