It’s one thing to write about your life, but it’s another to keep readers turning the page. In this blog, I’ll offer some tips to write a memoir or a self-help book with personal stories, that readers won’t want to put down.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” (Ernest Hemingway)
You might freak out about revealing personal information about yourself and your life. It’s normal. But as a memoirist and an author or someone who's trying to connect with people through story, that's the best thing to do.
In a memoir, you take the events of your life and SHOW them to your readers offering insight along the way. A memoir is not only about your transformation but offers something to your readers.
That "something" could simply be – entertainment – (a good laugh), information that serves them, or that they gain some wisdom or an a-ha moment that they could give meaning to their lives. Your story could be life-changing for some people.
My friend Nuray said that after reading my Wobbly Woman Memoirs 1 – Looking for Love she finally had awareness about the breakdown of her relationship. It gave her clarity. And that was simply by me sharing my story, not being preachy or telling people to do this or do that. That’s what I love about being a writer; hearing how my stories can help others.
The thing about memoirs is that while you are sharing your story, the reader wants to feel that there is something they can LEARN from you, whether that’s consciously or sub-consciously. Or they want to experience and FEEL something different while reading your book. That’s the beauty of books, film, art, poetry and music, they take us on a journey – whether that be an inner or outer journey.
We’re all voyeuristic, aren’t we? (Even slightly) We catch sideways glimpses to see if we all really are the same but different. I believe we are all the same – we just show it in different ways.
OK for some mesmerising tips…
Vulnerability is being able to connect your voice to your heart. It’s about having the courage to share your story regardless of what other people may think. Speaking out and speaking up is true courage. We can embrace our shame and know that our stories are bigger than us. Our stories while different, are universal because we are all connected in some way. Or we want to feel connected.
My mum asked me why I shared so many personal things about myself in my Wobbly Woman Memoirs book. She was horrified. In life, I am someone who wears their heart on their sleeve. I do admit to feeling depressed at times or angry because I’m real. Readers want to see REAL on the page. Not BS. They can detect BS a mile away.
Vulnerability doesn’t mean you have to spit out every bad thing that happened to you in your memoir. You take what is at the HEART of your story and you explore. You explore for yourself during the writing process and then you shape it into something of beauty for your readers. But it starts with having the courage to be open and honest first, no matter how hard that may feel.
Some ways to help you write with vulnerability include Freewriting, which is simply writing without censoring yourself or self-editing. Much like journal writing. It helps to unlock the sub-conscious mind. That's a great way to start writing because you can always edit out the parts you don't want to include later.
Another good tip is to write as if you're telling a good friend your stories. A good friend doesn't judge or criticise you, so when you're trying to be vulnerable, think of your good friend.
A good example of writing with vulnerability is Glennon Doyle’s book, Untamed. I love that she found the courage to share a particular story that was shameful to her during her college days. Even her partner asked, “Really, you’re going to tell that story?” because she was worried for her.
It was important for Glennon to share that story because it was central to her theme of embracing the wild in you – the good, the bad, the ugly. When you accept the good, the bad, the ugly – well… you accept you and why you behaved as you did. It’s just awareness. And gaining that awareness for yourself, helps the reader look at their own life and question their behaviours and move towards self-acceptance.
You decide what you write about. It’s your book. When you know the heart of your story, then you know which stories to tell or save for a later time. The point is. Let go of the shame. And if you want help doing that check out Brene Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability in works such as:
She also has some great resources and tools on her website to help you work through shame and open yourself up to being more vulnerable. Most of us need a little help with this, I know I did, so go for it.
I’m going to be a big naughty here and give you a raunchy metaphor so that you’ll never look at writing in scenes the same way again.
Storytelling is like seduction. It’s about teasing and tantalising. You just don’t go hell for leather (sorry for the cliché) and Wham/Bam/Thank you Mam.
Where is the fun in that?
You don’t tell your readers everything in the introduction.
You reveal the events of your life in little scenes, playing out like a movie in your mind. You use dialogue and action to speed your story up and description and insight or reflection to slow it down occasionally.
There has to be a conflict that drives your story up to the climax (and yes that is a technical writing term) because the reader wants to know what is going to happen. This is what keeps the reader turning the page.
Just because a memoir can be written about one aspect of your life (unlike an autobiography which is more of a chronological account) it still needs a beginning, a middle and an end. You don’t want your readers fumbling around the in the dark, thinking what is the point. You want to carefully guide them in a way that makes them feel like they are getting something out of this experience with you too. And you want them to feel empathy because you write with vulnerability.
You want MOVEMENT and ACTION and some EXCITEMENT (again inner or outer – from finding love to having a spiritual awakening – it all applies.)
So, go slow. Enjoy and moments. Offer juicy details that mesmerise the reader.
Marisa, my naturopath and counsellor read my Wobbly Woman book and said, “Leeza, I felt as though I was there” even though she didn’t have the same experiences as me. She connected to me through my vulnerability and slowly revealing my character and the events of my life through scenes. A good memoir has a mix of showing the story in scenes and telling in the form of reflection and hindsight. You need both.
There’s only so much you can write in a blog but if you’ve enjoyed some of these tips then you might also enjoy my new book that I’m writing called, How to Write a Mesmerising Memoir, coming soon.
I have a different approach to writing about life stories. I don’t believe that there is any one right way to write a life story. I love the concept of experimenting and offering something fresh and unique. Because that’s the best way to write a mesmerising memoir.
My signature course, The Complete Memory to Memoir - How to write, edit, publish and market your book is only available as an e-course until 15th August 2021.
After that it will only be available as part of my 12 Week LIVE Writing Course. Some of the modules will be available as separate e-courses but at a higher price.
So if you like to learn at your own pace and are interested in the comprehensive, yet step-by-step guide to write your life story, memoir, family story or a self-help book with personal stories, now is the time to buy.
Have a great writing week