Sitting down to start one’s memoir is a daunting task. Remember memoir is a slice of life, not your entire biography. But where to begin? It’s not always obvious where to start. So finding a way to slip into your story might be easier if you find a side entrance. These memoir prompts are intended to stir up your memories and get you to set them down in words on paper. Focusing on the prompts gives you the distance and perspective to let you find your story.
Write two pages drawing upon your memories for each of these prompts.
- Recall a time when you wore the wrong shoes for the occasion. Describe the occasion, your apparel, and the resulting mismatch.
- Do you remember someone who told you a secret? Did you keep it or not? What was the secret? Why was it a secret? And what did you do with the secret?
- What is one thing you lost and have never found?
- What are you afraid of that you don’t want others to know you fear? How do you keep this phobia undercover?
- Imagine you are listening to live music. What songs do you hear? Where are you? With whom? When?
- Remember the last time you knew you were in real deep trouble?
- When did you apologize for something you did not do? Describe the situation and your decision to accept blame.
- Describe your most embarrassing moment.
- What do you always have close at hand?
- What is the one physical activity you enjoy alone? What is that experience like for you?
- Sun. Wind. Water. Earth. Stone. Fire. Pick one of these elements and your own personal connections and associations to your memories.
- Picture in your mind a time and place where you tasted fish. Write about that moment. Where are you? Describe the scene. Who are you with? Introduce the characters in your story. What are you doing? Action and dialogue and perhaps a bit of plot.
If you write two pages for each of these you’ll begin to see recurring characters, themes, patterns, and threads common across the shimmering images you paint with words. This kickstarts the process of turning personal essays into a memoir with a narrative arc.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…