In writing your memoir, pinpoint the “So what?” of key events—the crises, victories, surprises, and discoveries.
Ponder this: Your memoir is about happenings that impacted you: you lost your job—or after overcoming obstacles, you landed the job of your dreams; your house burned down; you made the college varsity team; your child died; you survived cancer.
After you’ve written a rough draft of a vignette, ask yourself:
- Why was that event so important to me?
- Why does this memory stand out when I’ve forgotten so many others?
- How did the event change me?
In other words, So what?
- mulling over,
- sorting out.
Peel off layers one by one until you can answer these questions:
How do you see the experience now, in retrospect?
What was going on beneath the surface?
If the event had not happened, how would your values, goals, perspectives, and relationships be different?
And, if your memoir has a spiritual dimension, how was God:
- holding the reins,
- and arranging the details,
- to carry out His best plans for your life?
Connect the dots: To what new place did God lead you? How did He shake you up, change your mind, melt your heart, revise your goals, and make a new person of you?
“Many memoir writers in workshops I’ve taught,” writes Victoria Costello, “encounter trouble with the reflective voice.… If this is a stumbling block for you, here are some phrases that can help ease you into a reflective voice:
- There must have been…
- Only later did I realize…
- There was no way to know then…
- The way I see it now…
- It has taken me 10, 20, 30 years to understand that…” (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir)
Here are additional reflective phrases you can use:
- I couldn't have put it into words back then, but now...
- It would be years before I understood that...
- I didn't understand it at the time, but...
- When I remember those events, I...
- If only I'd known back then that...
- Ten years later I would ask myself...
Search your heart
for the deeper lessons
within your stories.
Only then can you pass on
to your readers.