The Five Top Tips for Turning Memories into a Book

You need to do three important things before you write your memoir.

  1. You need to jog your memory
  2. You need to find a theme for your story
  3. You need to plot your memoir 

In this post, I want to deal with the first point. I want to make suggestions on how you can do some research for your memoir. This is not the creative part of the process. (Read my post on The Top 12 Quotes On Writing Memoirs for inspiration.) This is hard work and takes time but once you’ve done it, you will have an invaluable resource. I want you to think about how you can jog your memories and collect data so that you can stay as true to your story as possible.

Five Ways to Organise your Memories

1. Become a gatherer. You should start with personal bits and pieces. Remember that these are only aids. Your memories are still there and you can access them with or without the help of these. These are the types of things to look for and keep:

  • Diaries
  • Obituaries
  • Birth, marriage, death certificates
  • Birthday and wedding invitations
  • Letters
  • Photographs
  • Home movies, videos, and DVDs
  • Report cards, school books
  • Family memorabilia
  • Jewellery
  • Menus
  • Music - vinyl, tape, digital
  • Newspaper cuttings
  • Old cheques
  • Old programmes
  • Payslips
  • Wills

2. Make use of living relatives and old friends. Start a conversation about your memoir. Remember that neither you nor your relative or friend is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. You each have your own story to tell. Listen. You will need other voices in your memoir. You will specifically need voices that oppose yours. Make notes.

3. Ground your story using details from the time you’re describing. If you don’t do this you run the risk of spending too much time meandering through your thoughts and feelings. Visit the places you will be describing. If you are unable to go back, there are other ways to do this. You can:

  • Watch movies from that era.
  • Read newspapers from the years that you will be writing about.
  • Google dates, places and incidents.

4. Prepare a Life List. This is for you and you alone. This is not for a publisher’s consumption. Write a page on each of these subjects. Some may not even be applicable to you. This list will become the skeleton from which you draw material for your memoir.

  • Birth and baby years
  • Pre-school years
  • Junior school
  • High school
  • University
  • Friends
  • Hobbies
  • Holidays, festivals
  • Jobs
  • Illness
  • Early relationships
  • Religion
  • Early marriage
  • Moving House
  • Middle years
  • Bereavement
  • Later years
  • Retirement

5. Make files. Organise these by using a lever arch file with plastic pockets for memorabilia. Do this in chronological sequence. Slot your notes and writing between these. Now fill the plastic folders with whatever is relevant to these life stages. You should have achieved some sort of order and you’ll be grateful for this as you progress through your book.

If you want to find out how to find a theme and a plot for your memoir, join us from 9-12 December 2013 for our life-changing course, Secrets of a Memoirist.

Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson

Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. She is the author of Secrets of a Memoirist

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