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catnav-interviews-active-3Post #238 – Memoir Writing Tiny Tip – Matilda Butler



Is it hard to describe your memoir?

I was on a trip and picked up the hotel’s copy of USA Today. I saw a small box that read:

I don’t know what I do. 40% of workers admit that it’s hard to describe what they do for a living. — Source: Linkedin and Censuswide survey of 11,228 workers.

It made me wonder if we did a survey of memoir writers what percentage would be able to quickly say what their memoir is about? And even more importantly, would they be able to use only a few sentences to show the arc of the narrative in an interesting way?

In teaching and coaching, I often find this inability to quickly, easily, and interestingly layout the backbone of a memoir in a compelling way. Of course, many of you do have a clear image of what you are writing and why. You’ve even practiced your “elevator speech” where you can pitch your memoir in a couple of minutes. But if you aren’t quite to this point, I hope today’s Tiny Tip lets you focus on this important aspect of memoir writing.

The weight of writing makes it easy to get lost or feel overwhelmed. Then a friend or new acquaintance asks you what your memoir is about. Panic. You may flounder around, sort of warming up before you begin to reply. Or you may answer differently each time you are questioned. Neither approach is what you want. Ask yourself the following questions and see if they help move you forward to a clear statement about your memoir:

1. What is the title of your memoir? If you don’t have a title, at least have a working title. That’s a good place to start describing your memoir. If the title doesn’t help your friend know about your story then it may need some additional polish. The title should foreshadow the contents of your memoir.

2. The first sentence needs to hook the person you are talking with. The topic needs to be one that everyone can identify with and resonate with. Then by the end of the sentence you have put your unique angle on it. For example, people identify with love, anger, health, illness, personal trauma, etc. But what is your unique perspective. Is it: “seeing love as a blind woman” … “traveling the path to health lead to an almost fatal encounter” … etc. The contrast doesn’t need to be this strong, but you get the idea. The topic may seem obvious but your approach is unique.

3. Once you’ve worked on your first sentence hook, prepare no more than three sentences that reveal the arc of the story. At that point, stop talking. Engage the other person. See what aspects of your story resonate the person and then add more detail as seems appropriate.

Follow these steps and you won’t ever have to say: “It’s hard to describe what my memoir is about.”

How This Tiny Tip Series Started

The idea for a series of short writing tips came to me while reading the program notes for a chamber music concert. I realized that many (well, ok, most) of my blog articles get to be long and often require you to do certain things — like write from prompts I’ve provided. And while I will continue with this type of longer article because I think they are of value, I realized that sometimes as writers we just want a little bit of information or a small new idea or a thought stated differently. We don’t have a lot of time.

That’s the concept behind each Tiny Tip. Just a nugget to give you something to think about as you go through your busy day.

Enjoy.

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