Memoir Mistakes to Avoid

The house my dad grew up in. Alpine, Texas.

It started out as an essay about my father’s 12 hour day in the emergency room.  But as I reread my essay I saw that other bits and pieces of his story were essential to fully understand the impact of that day.  Thus, with the encouragement of several writing friends, I started writing memoir.  Thanks to Jane Friedman’s post, I have a better sense what common mistakes to avoid.

Many memoir include way too much information.  Sometimes this is because the person is mistakenly writing an autobiography.  Fortunately, I already knew the difference but if this distinction is new to you, remember that an autobiography tells your whole life from birth until present.  A memoir is a slice of life.  It can center on a theme, such as learning to stand up for yourself, or a portion of your life, your experiences in grad school.

What I hadn’t considered until I read Friedman’s post is that many people try to write one memoir when they should be writing three.  Not only do they write all about graduate school, they include politics and growing up in a rural community.  The themes and topics are just too far ranging to make a single solidly constructed memoir.

Friedman also warned people to make sure that they choose a unique focus.  Surviving cancer, overcoming alcoholism and living with depression are stories that have already been told.  Like any other type of writing, your memoir has to fill a gap.

A problem with much of the memoir that I’ve critiqued is that it is really a journal. Yes, journaling to work through things is a good idea.  Trying to sell this journaling as memoir?  Not so much.

Friedman covers several other points in her post.  Just remember that if you are writing your memoir to sell, it will have to be tight, flow logically and tell a story that no one has yet told.  Easy peasy, right?