Thursday, November 7, 2013

Do you know your memoir’s theme?

Are you following Spiritual Memoirs 101 on Facebook? 
If not, you’re missing a lot of important, helpful, inspirational stuff! 

By definition, a memoir has a theme. Memoir is not autobiography. Memoir is only a slice of life in which your stories relate to a specific theme.

A memoir could be about your life as a chef in a Scottish castle and how the experience turned your life in an unexpected, but better, direction.

Or you could write about your life as set designer in Hollywood and how that taught you the difference between fair-weather friends and true friends.

Or your life as an abused spouse, how you found the courage to start a new life, and how you became an advocate for other abused people.

You could base your memoir on the same theme as Spiritual Memoirs 101’s theme: Remembering what you’ve seen God do for you and your family, and being sure to tell your children and grandchildren (see Deuteronomy 4:9 and 6:4-9, for example).

Base your memoir on a theme:

—highlight a universal value or struggle
—illustrate a timeless truth or quest
—address issues all humans wrestle with.

Themes: forgiveness, compassion, justice, honesty, integrity, tenacious faith, generosity, courage, respect, overcoming timidity, keeping your word, receiving and giving grace and mercy.

Another idea: You could slice your life in a different direction and write your memoir about a specific time period. My memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, covers my first four years in Africa. Within that time period, the book has a couple of main themes—it deals with universal struggles, timeless truths, and issues many humans wrestle with.

In other words, a good memoir “always connects the reader’s heart with a deeper truth.” (Jeff Goins, “Three Rules to Write World-Changing Memoir.”)

Your memoir’s theme will convey the message you want your readers to take with them. Your theme lays out deep truths you hope they will apply to their lives.

Do you know the theme of the memoir you are writing?

Dr. John Yeoman says, “If you can’t sum it up in a proverb, you don’t have a theme.”

Are you looking for some proverbs? Universal truths you’ve lived? Wisdom quotes you’ve lived? Bible verses you’ve lived?

Here are a few one-liners and quotes I’ve collected recently. Perhaps one or more will work for your memoir’s theme.

"In the moment, it can be hard to see where God is leading us, but looking back we often see his fingerprints." Richard Stearns

“The more one does the more one can do. “ Amelia Earhart

“If things are tough, remember that every flower that ever bloomed had to go through a whole lot of dirt to get there.” Barbara Johnson

“… Reframe setbacks as opportunities….” Sarah Young

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  Paul in Philippians 4:12

“Selfishness … keeps us in a spiritual playpen.” Elisabeth Elliot

“Don't put limits on what you and God, together, can do.”

“All around you people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don't tiptoe!” Shane Claiborne

“If you live gladly to make others glad in God, life will be hard, risks will be high, and your joy will be full.” John Piper

“What if this is a critical moment? What if this very thing, this very decision, is the most important piece of the puzzle comprising my purpose?” Beth Moore

“There’s a time to mourn and a time to dance.”  Ecclesiastes 3:4

“If you were to think of yourself the way I [God] think of you, how different you would be.… If you were to think of yourself as I think of you, how glad, how healthy, how satisfied you would be.… It is My desire that you know My thoughts toward you
that your eyes be opened
and your mind enlightened
that you may know and understand.”  Marie Chapian 

“If a person is ever going to do anything worthwhile, there will be times when he must risk everything by his leap in the dark.” Oswald Chambers

"We trust in all the love of God does; all He gives, and all He does not give; all He says, and all He does not say.... Let us be content with our Lord's will, and tell Him so, and not disappoint Him by wishing for anything He does not give." Amy Carmichael

“Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. Oh! The places you’ll go!” Dr. Seuss

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” Arthur Golden

"Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led. But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading." Oswald Chambers

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid... the Lord your God goes with you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” Mark Twain

“The woe and the waste and the tears of life belong to the interlude and not to the finale.” F.B. Meyer

“Our loving God will turn your mourning into joy, comfort you, and exchange your sorrow for rejoicing.” Jeremiah 31:13

“Do it trembling if you must, but do it!” Emmet Fox

“The opposite of faith is not doubts, it is unbelief.” Mike Trenier

“The Lord has heard your weeping. He has heard your cry for mercy. He accepts your prayer.” Psalm 6:8-9

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, Woo Hoo! What a ride!” (Various versions of this quote are attributed to various authors, including Indian Larry The Ryan Clan)

“Faith is not necessarily the power to make things the way we want them to be; it is the courage to face things as they are.” Ronald Dunn

“Write today's worries in sand. Chisel yesterday's victories in stone.” Max Lucado

“Time is nothing to God. Prayers were offered years ago and God answered the soul with silence. Now He is giving the manifestation of the answer in a revelation that we are scarcely able to comprehend.” Oswald Chambers

“Banish selfishness.”

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face... You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

"Sometimes your medicine bottle has on it, 'Shake well before using.' That is what God has to do with some of His people. He has to shake them well before they are ever usable." Vance Havner

“...What we resist in life is often our biggest opportunity to learn and grow!” Jody Stevenson

“Oh, the things you can find if you don’t stay behind!”  Dr. Seuss

“When your world falls apart, when your life spins out of control, when your worst fear materializes, when the unspeakable, unthinkable becomes a reality, when your life turns upside down, God is always with you, holding you by your right hand.” Psalm 73:23

Here are three posts to help you pin down your memoir’s theme:

Better Memoir Writing—Two Tips for Conveying Theme Effectively,” by Denis Ledoux

Why Your Story Needs a Theme,” by Amanda Patterson (She offers three steps to finding your theme.)  


  1. Thank you for this packed-with-pearls post, Linda. Finding theme can be tricky. I found the real theme of my memoir as I kept writing. The story I had set out to write became a different story in the end. It seems the the key to finding theme is to keep writing!

    1. So true, Kathy. It's amazing what we discover--and what our stories become--in the very process of writing. Our stories can take us places we never would have imagined. I'm working on a stack of vignettes I wrote in the past and am wondering if there's a theme among them. There is, of course, but it's a broad theme. Now I'm trying to pin down a more narrow theme. I'll discover it, I'm sure, so in the meantime I'll do what you said: Keep writing! Thanks for stopping by, Kathy.

      All the best to you, Friend! :)


  2. Thanks for the tips on finding a theme to your memoir. I think Kathleen is right in that we find a theme as we start or keep writing, but being intentional is important. This is good advice for me.

    1. Betsy, you and Kathy are on the right track. As we continue to write, a more accurate theme will become more evident. Having a theme pinned down during the final stages of writing and rewriting is a must. It's all such a glorious process! I hope you are enjoying your writing, Betsy. Thanks so much for keeping in touch.