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Friday, December 2, 2016

So, You Want to Write a Memoir

I have written several novels and have published two memoirs, my memoir Starving Girl and my mom’s memoir The Memory Catcher.  

My mom author and researcher Sarah Hinze and I being 
photographed for our local newspaper.  2103

I find reading and writing memoirs meaningful to the things I know to be eternally true.  I feel as we do simple, yet extraordinary things, our personal stories are magnified and meaning is everywhere.  Here are a few tips to get started:

1)     Find the most meaningful part of your story.  For me, it was my first 30-days of fasting.  I wrote in real time, but much of my memoir looked at past experiences.  Look through your blog, facebook, old journals, photos, etc.  Find your angles, quirky unusuals, meaningful life lessons, etc. See if you have one life experience bigger than the others.  What are the common themes?  What part of your life is your best story? 

2)     Don’t get too stuck on dates.  Most biographies do not read like my book, where dates are the start of each chapter, but do try to start a chronological path of each meaningful experience.  Think of Erin Brochovich, Julie and Julia, Eat Pray Love, Wild, The Glass House, etc.

3)     Don’t get lost in the details, at first.  The details will come later.  Be very general, but once you have your outline finished, I want you to put yourself right back in that scene and think of your emotions.  Emotions are the best teachers.  At this point, I want you to get specific.  More ideas will flood your mind.  Keep going.  Go detail crazy. Think of your senses.  Bring in past experiences that might be significant at this point.  Your input has no boundaries.  Ask yourself questions.  Research your own ideas.

4)     The start of your book should be a gripping, emotional story to pull the reader in.  The event maybe didn’t even happen during your “best life story”, but it is a monumental experience that opened your eyes to what?  Love?  Adventure?  Commitment?  Overcoming?  Whatever it is, and you probably haven’t written this scene, start digging to get it done.

5)     I kept my baggage out of my book.  This doesn’t mean I’m not revealing or even vulnerable, but I tried to focused every story on strength, overcoming and self-discovery.  No preaching and no gossiping.  I spoke very kindly of my loved ones, because I love so many of the people who make their way into my book.  I made a point to not reference “You.” Or make generalizations about what most people might think or do.  Everything I wrote about was written from the “I.”

6)     Pray like the dickens.  God has asked us to journal, to keep a family history, etc.  Although writing a memoir is not the same as writing in your journal, please know Heavenly Father will help you ( But you already know this.)

7)     If you don’t think you can write about a certain scene, write it anyway.  If it’s something embarrassing, revealing, shocking, emotional, write it generally.  Think of scenes you’ve read in other books like the scene in Wild when Cheryl had to shot her mother’s horse or when Elizabeth Smart wrote about her rape in My Story.  When I wrote Starving Girl, I imagined everyone close to me reading it.  I had to remind myself most of the people I know won’t even read my memoir.  I had to write the story for me and there were certain necessary scenes I had to make fit.  Second of all, your story is intended for a bigger audience.  Be silly, don’t take yourself too seriously.  Write it for your own sake and decide later if you have the courage to include it in your memoir.  For me, in the writing I found the courage to overcome.  

8)     Write and then, we-write.  Edit, write and re-write.  Write, put it away, work on another scene, then go back and read your previous work.  Rinse and repeat, ok, don’t rinse.

9)     Keep a log of ideas.  I would be out on a walk or folding laundry, and an idea would come to mind.  You don’t want to lose any of this.  I would speak into my phone and email my ideas to my computer.  Don’t think, “Oh, I’ll remember it later.”  This is a trap.  Take your ideas seriously.  Invest in yourself.

10) Listen to motivational talks.  Be inspired.  Read memoirs.  Listen to audio books.  Study your favorite authors.  Research their lives.  When people ask “What do you do?”  reply, “I’m an author.”  Start looking at yourself differently. 

11) Ask yourself, “What is it I want to say?”  What do you wish was out their in literature?  Have you found it?  Write the book you’d want to read.  Say the things you’d want to hear.  Be the voice.  Be strong in your convictions (without preaching). 

12) Do not seclude your audience by clinging to certain religious or cultural differences.  Be more general with these ideas, as they might turn certain readers off. 

13) Keep the flow.  Once a story ends, end it.  Do not analyze things to death.  Allow the reader to fill in some of the gaps.  Don’t write, “My husband is the best.”  Instead, write about a time he proved he was the best.  Show, don’t tell.

14) Allow us into your mind.  Let us hear the pros and cons.  Let us hear your inner battle, the courtroom drama, etc.  The inner growth and struggle is a key part of the story.

15) If you have written on your blog or kept a journal, many of your stories are already in their first–draft format.  If possible, use some of your past writings to propel you forward and think, “I’m so glad I kept this stuff written down.”

Remember, every rule can be broken if necessary to share your story.  So, there you have it.  Writing your own memoir is a thrilling, rewarding journey that I think more women should experience.  Your life story has real villains and heroes, adventures to unknown destinations and gripping accounts of overcoming.  Email me at if you have any questions.  Happy Writing.

Find it on Amazon and Kindle.

Find my book trailer on youtube by clicking here.

Find The Memory Catcher here.

Book trailer here.