By Adilah Barnes
Memoir writing is arguably one of the easiest
genres of writing because by definition it ought to be steeped in reflection
and honesty. Imagination is not required in the same way as in fiction
because the rich stories derived from our past and their seemingly
insignificant details are already there, stored in memory. They need only
Good memoirs can be powerful.
Memoirs have the potential to change the lives of
the writer and reader alike because the writing is personal, vulnerable and
naked. They have the potential to create a main character that the reader
will care about. This genre of writing can also influence the reader to
make decisions or take action in another’s life. In fact, what creates the
universality of storytelling is the ability to make the personal writing
resonate for the reader in a way that is identifiable and that transports
them to take pause and become inspired by another.
Everyone has the potential to write a memoir
because everyone has a story.
What makes each story individual is the how in the
telling of the story. Many of us have had similar experiences but what
differentiates the how is the unique voice of the writer.
I suggest that a writer embarking on memoir for
the first time choose at least five significant moments from his or her
life and just write, write, write, without regard to how the story will
It is not necessary to even write chronologically
by event from one’s life.
Just let the pen or keyboard flow and see where
the stories take you. The telling of the story is likely to drive the story
forward and in the telling, themes may be revealed to build upon as the
stories are further developed.
You can go back later to do the editing.
Some reflections may be haunting and others may
bring back warm, fuzzy memories that feel good. Both are a part of our life
experiences and each deserves reflection, sometimes confrontation, and a
fresh perspective to view our lives from - using our critical eye, when
It is not important to be concerned about what
others will think of the writing because, first and foremost, the
storytelling is for the writer.
Judgment of others ought to hold little concern,
if any at all. In some instances, the writing may never be shared with
another, but rather released privately. Therein lies the
lesson from the experience.
Writing from the bones may simply be therapeutic.
As a writing instructor of personal stories, I use
sensory work to jumpstart and activate the details of the memory through guided
imagery of the five senses. One exercise that I have found to be
particularly effective is to have writers lie on their backs on the floor,
arms to their sides, to remember childhood experiences, both pleasant and
unpleasant. It is in the early years that we first experience emotions that
will follow us as adults throughout the rest of lives – such emotions as love,
shame, joy, pain, happiness, embarrassment and fear.
These exercises can be a great source of emotional
Those who wish to explore personal stories may
wish to do the following: 1) Decide what stories they want to tell 2) allow
unedited thoughts to flow freely 3) try to recall as much detail in the telling,
as possible, and get those specifics down on paper 4) incorporate dialogue
to hear the voices of others who are a part of the story 5) challenge
oneself by writing about subjects that are also uncomfortable, especially those
that have never been shared with another before 6) set daily writing goals
7) vividly depict scenes with strong imagery 8) create an arc in the
writing with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end and 9) allow
emotional tension through an increased sense of drama and conflict
Memoir writing ought to uphold a high standard of
the craft that is well-written and reveals truth.
Above all, memoir writing must entertain the
You can reach Adilah
Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org or The Writer’s
Retreat (Georgia location).