“All of this made me feel better about myself, and I was grateful to the books for teaching me-without my even having to read them- that there were people in the world more desperate, more self-absorbed, more boring than I was.”
Brock Clarke says that about memoirs in An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. That is how the vast majority of the world looks upon a memoir. So, before you embark on the journey of writing your memoir, ask yourself the seven questions listed below.
Question#1 Do you have a compelling topic?
There may be many reasons why you are penning your memoir: to help others learn from your mistakes, to teach them how to get over a heartache, to show how you battled cancer, etc. However, there is an umpteen number of memoirs that cover all the above topics that I mentioned along with another five dozen such topics. So, what is different about your book? What is the compelling topic that you are writing about that will make everyone yearn to read your memoir?
Question#2 Have you done all the legal work?
You must be aware of the recent story of how Bollywood actor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, published his memoir, An Ordinary Life, which had to be called back and pulped. Protect yourself from lawsuits and defamation notices by signing a well-drafted general release form from all persons who are mentioned in your memoir. Get the release form legally registered so that you will be protected from any nasty actions that may be taken against you. Also, consider changing names, genders and masking the identities as much as possible if you do not want to or are unable to seek permission.
Question#3 Why will someone read you?
This is the biggest question you should ask yourself: Why will someone read your memoir? Are you a film actor? Are you a celebrity? Are you a published author/poet? Are you famous? Do you have an Author platform or a fan following? How will you market yourself? These questions may seem harsh but it is better to get your expectations straight before embarking on a huge project like writing a memoir.
Question#4 Do you have storytelling skills?
You may be all the above but if you want to catch the attention of your reader and win his heart, you need excellent storytelling skills. A memoir is just like a novel; it must have plot, conflict, structure, well-etched out scenes and interesting characters (apart from you!) It needs to have a clear premise, a distinct voice and a unique writing style.
Question#5 Do you have language skills?
If you think a memoir does not require language skills, you are seriously mistaken. In fact, it might help to have two editors for such projects to perform extensive substantive editing to check for the following: Are you rambling? Do you sound too full of yourself? Is the language precise and concise?
Question#6 Is this an act of catharsis?
Writing can be immensely cathartic, especially when you write about your problems, challenges and obstacles. However, that is not something that can be published. A memoir is different from the writing that you do as a catharsis. A memoir may arise from that but it cannot be that.
Question#7 Are you sure this is a memoir?
A memoir is different from an autobiography. While an autobiography talks about your life, a memoir is a slice of life. A memoir need not start from birth; it does not have to be an all-compassive record of your life. A memoir concentrates on just one phase/challenge/aspect of your life.
So, are you still planning on writing your memoir?
Have you read any memoirs? What is your favourite one?