Writing Tools to QuickStart Your Memoir

I was straightening out a bookshelf and I noticed a gift I’d forgotten about, a large  hardback  with a floral cover I’d catalogued with the cookbooks. The title, “A Mother’s Journal.” 

Divided into sections, it has questions such as “Where I lived” and “What I remember about my family home” and  “How Your Father and I Met.”  All good writing prompts, but I’d left everything blank.  It also asks for favorite recipes, which is why I put it with the cookbooks. Already, I’d put together a few personal cookbooks, so the hardback book remained unused. Generally, I scribble in a notebook where I can cross things out or work on a computer where I can move around sentences and paragraphs .

I kept the book, because my daughter gave it to me as a gift. But it at the time she gave it to me, it seemed an insult because snobby editor/writer that I was, surely I wasn’t going to hand write simple responses to what I considered to be generic questions. Then I remembered she’d given another book, similar idea, to her dad/my husband entitled “The Book of Me, A Do-It-Yourself Memoir” He’d never written in it, but I’d liked the size of it, and I liked some of the questions, ”Describe the first time you fell in love”  and “When you were tempted to do something wrong just to fit in, what did you decide to do?”

Maybe these “journals” were useful after all.

The first step to writing a memoir are to ask yourself questions and here were questions readily available. This particular do-it-yourself memoir had so many questions, I could just pick and choose the ones that inspired me. I decided to try it out and see what happened.

I started writing a few sentences and in some instances those sentences grew into a scene, what became a piece of flash Creative Non Fiction. If I wrote something I really liked, I kept revising it and began submitting it to publications. Then I typed up my little piece and glued it into the book.  Thus I had a “permanent record” I could eventually hand over to my children. Several of these memory pieces have been published.

For under twenty dollars, there’s a number of these style books with titles that include the words “My Life,” “Life Story,”  and “Life’s Journey.”

Have I written a memoir yet? Well, no…. but I’ve got a few bits and pieces of one, and that’s a start. Plus I’ve got dozens more “writing prompts” to explore.

Yesterday, one of the literary newsletters I subscribe to, offered to provide a month of weekly writing prompts and a virtual “pat on the back” each time one was completed, for a fee. No editor was planning to read whatever you wrote, the idea is to get you in the “writing habit.”

I  also regularly receive emails in my inbox telling me about fabulous courses on memoir writing. For hundreds or thousands of dollars, my successfully published writing colleagues promise to reveal how I can tap into my memories and pen captivating stories that will eventually yield a book deal.

Sounds good, but in reality the market is limited. How many memoirs are commercial publishers able to publish that will yield a profit?

The most important goal is to write and at different times in your life it can be productive to take a class or to use an online structure ( my favorite is National Novel Writing Month) where you chart how many words you write each day. But if you haven’t tried simple life story prompts, they are another tool to try.

And why are you writing anyway? Is it for fame and fortune or is it for family and friends?   For me, it is more about self- knowledge and understanding. Revisiting a memory can often provide fresh insights that can enrich the way I experience the present.  If I can share a little bit of what I learn with others, so much the better. A small audience is still an audience. My latest published piece, “Why I Wish I Knew More Yiddish” in ZIN Daily, draws heavily on my memories and you can read a few of my published CNF flash pieces by visiting https://nadjamaril.com/online/.

Thank you for reading and for your feedback. Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril.

Published by Nadja Maril

Nadja Maril is a communications professional who has over 10 years experience as a magazine editor. A writer and journalist, Maril is the author of several books including: "American Lighting 1840-1940", "Antique Lamp Buyer's Guide", "Me, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat", and "Runaway, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat". Her short stories and essays have been published in several small online journals including Lunch Ticket, Change Seven, Scarlet Leaf Review and Defunkt Magazine. She has an MFA in creative writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Former Editor-in-Chief of What's Up ? Publishing, former Editor of Chesapeake Taste Magazine a regional lifestyle magazine based in Annapolis, and former Lighting Editor of Victorian Homes Magazine, Maril has written hundreds of newspaper and magazines articles on a variety of subjects..

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