People will read your memoir for its takeaways.
What’s a takeaway?
It’s a gem you unearthed that provided you with clarity and helped make sense of your life—a universal truth you discovered—which you offer to your readers.
Takeaways are what readers “take away” from your memoir, the important lessons they’ll carry with them after they’ve read the last page and closed the back cover.
When a reader stumbles upon a takeaway, a meaningful sentence or two that speaks to something deep inside, he will pause to think, to re-read the words, slowly. He might underline the passage. Or maybe highlight it. Or write notes in the margin.
So how do you create a takeaway?
Think back. At some point you had an A-ha moment and a light came on. Puzzle pieces began falling into place. You were not the same person after that.
That’s good, that’s exciting. Such discoveries can be defining moments, life-changers—but go beyond that. Share the benefits of that experience with your readers by crafting a takeaway. Offer them their own A-ha moment.
In other words, in a concise way give words to the principle you learned—think of the takeaway as a precept, a moral, a proverb, a saying, a guideline, an adage—something readers can live by, a principle that can be life-changing for them, too.
Use your takeaway to offer readers hope,
or a solution,
or a new way of living or loving.
You, the writer, encounter such precepts—such truths to live by—through epignosis. To gnosis (compared to epignosis) is to have head knowledge of something, but to epignosis something is to know it from experience. (Read my earlier post about epignosis: Understanding epignosis can help you write your memoir.)
Your takeaways, then, communicate to your readers: “I know this is true because I have experienced it, I have lived it. It changed my life. Perhaps it will change your life, too.”
Where do you put takeaways in your memoir?
“Takeaway happens within a reflection,” point out Brooke Warner and Dr. Linda Joy Myers. (If you missed our recent blog post about the importance of reflection in memoir, click on Reflection and the words we use.)
“Takeaway can be a reflection, but not all reflection is takeaway,” they continue. “… [W]herever there is reflection, there is an opportunity for a takeaway, but that doesn’t mean that necessarily all reflections are going to be takeaways.”
In other words, takeaways accompany segments in your memoir in which you reflect. You will probably have a number of reflections throughout your memoir. Some if not all of them will be opportunities for you to include a takeaway for your readers.
Avoid Christianese—jargon that might be distasteful to readers, or lingo that might hinder your readers’ understanding. For example, resist using phrases such as “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Instead, use everyday language to make your point.
And don’t beat around the bush! Pinpoint your message. Clarity is your goal. (Please, please, read my blog post about writers who circle all around The Point but never state The Point. Click on What’s the point?)
Dedicate quality time to crafting your takeaways. Specify what was the most important message or lesson you took away from that experience (the one you’re reflecting on). Boil it down, write a concise message for your readers.
Here are two examples:
“We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old.” (Frederick Buechner)
“Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the ed of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.’” (Mary Anne Racmacher)
Most memoirists scatter takeaways throughout their memoirs. If you have a conclusion, a post script, or an epilogue in your memoir, reiterate your most important takeaways in them, too.
Your takeaways are the most powerful part of your memoir—
they’re packed with punch.
They’re the part of your memoir that
makes a difference in people’s lives.
At first your takeaways will resemble diamonds-in-the-rough. Your job is to cut and polish and make those gems sparkle. Doing so adds to their value for both you and your readers.