Thursday, May 22, 2014

Your memoir: Are you sure that’s what you’re writing?

What is memoir?

Because I recently gave a talk about writing memoirs, I’ve been reviewing the definition of memoir.

It’s good to remind ourselves of such specifics from time to time.

So here we go!

When people sign up for my memoir classes, I often hear, “A memoir class! Terrific! I love journaling!”

Yes, sometimes people confuse writing a memoir with journaling, or with writing autobiography, so let’s distinguish between them.

Your journal is private, but you write a memoir for others to read.

An autobiography documents your entire life, starting with your birth, but memoir focuses on a segment of your life—a specific theme or time period—which you explore in depth. A memoir is merely a slice of life.

In other words, a person can write a memoir based on a theme: my life as a public school teacher in Miami, or as a linesman at Wimbledon. My memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, covers a time period, my first four years in Africa.

Pondering, examining, unraveling, musing, and reflecting are necessary ingredients in a memoir.

Spiritual Memoirs 101’s theme is Deuteronomy 4:9, Always remember the things you’ve seen God do for you, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!

In writing a spiritual memoir, you’ll examine what God was doing as you see it now, in retrospect. You’ll look for deeper lessons God had for you in the events—mostly everyday events—of your life.

Look for God's fingerprints all over your life!

Looking back, how did certain events, experiences, or people change your life? What new perspectives did you gain? What new person did you become?

Who or what changed the direction of your life? Who or what impacted your choices in career, marriage partner, parenting style, and financial responsibility?

Who or what comforted you, warned you, charmed, redirected, inspired, guided, informed, challenged, or enlightened you?

What patterns in your faith did you discover that you hadn’t noticed before?

What did you learn about God?

Do you now have a better understanding of God’s purpose for your life?

How did the experience strengthen your faith for future challenges?

In summary, your stories will capture how you remember God’s activities in your life—they can be everyday events—and what you discovered about both God and yourself.

Dig deep. Tunnel down below the surface.

Maybe coincidences and chance encounters were much more—they were God in action: orchestrating, arranging, and shaping your life’s direction.

Include your thoughts—even your struggles—to understand what was going on. Write out your delights as well as your doubts. Ask questions even if you have no answers.

Mull over,
sift through,
sort out.

What was God doing as you see it now, in retrospect?

A memoir can be a few pages or book-length, but I suggest you start by writing a collection of vignettes or short chapters.

I hope to make it easy to begin writing your memoir. Here are a few tips:

  • Start small: choose two or three occasions in which God acted on behalf of you or your family. For example, think back to turning points, answered prayer, decisions, or the happiest day of your life. For now, avoid traumatic or complicated stories; you’ll learn the craft of memoir more easily if you start with straightforward events.
  • Do you need a story idea? Look through your Bible or a devotional for phrases you underlined and notes you jotted in the margin. Such notations can help you remember a significant situation in your life.
  • While you write, ask yourself the above questions. Answers might not surface quickly but when they do, include them in your stories.
  • Include humor. (See links below.) 
  • Write rough drafts, three to five pages for each story. (You’ll revise your rough drafts a lot—everyone does—so don’t worry about perfecting them yet.) These will be chapters in your finished memoir. You can write stand-alone pieces or a series of related stories.
  • Enjoy your writing!

 Writing your memoir is a grand undertaking!

Your stories will help shape the spiritual lives of your children,
grandchildren, great-grandchildren,
and anyone else who reads them (your “spiritual children”).

Your memoir could be the finest gift you’ll ever give,
so pray for God’s help!

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  1. One would think I would know this clearly, but I appreciate you spelling it out. It really does help focus the writing.

    1. Hi, Lia, all of us need to remind ourselves from time to time! :) Next blog post will contain similar info more in depth. I hope you find it helpful. Keep writing!