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How To Write Your Memoirs And Get Them Published

31/01/2017 16:32

They say everyone has a book in them, and what could you be more qualified to write about than your own life? Writing one's memoirs is a popular 'one day' ambition for many people. But there's no reason to wait until your memories have faded when you could start today.

Life writing can be therapeutic, helping you to heal and learn from the past. It can provide a great present for your grandchildren. And if it's a well-written account of an interesting subject, it can be commercially successful whether the writer was previously widely known or not. A good example would be the late Jennifer Worth's best selling trilogy of books about her work as a midwife in the 1950s, which were turned into the hit TV series Call The Midwife.

The phrase 'write your memoirs' (plural) is useful because you may have more than one story to tell. I recently met a man who was struggling to write a book about his young life as a singer and all the famous names he'd met, his latter years as a business man and also a major personal trauma. Really, he had three potential books, each of which could find a different audience, whereas an autobiography that tried to cover such disparate topics would be a disjointed read and unlikely to find a market.

One way to keep your writing focused is to start with a title and subtitle that establishes the agenda and tone, whether it's Attack on Port Stanley - My Falklands War or Heaven Knows I Was Miserable Then - Growing Up Listening to the Smiths.

Writing a timeline of significant events can give you a story arc or list of chapters. It can be useful to think of turning points as scenes in a movie, which you can describe in detail to show rather than tell what happened.

Having said that, a memoir is an exploration of your past. Part of the fun is recalling things you may have forgotten. So give yourself permission to write scenes, anecdotes and pen portraits of the people you've met in whatever order they come to you. You can select, discard and rearrange your reminiscences later. The important thing at first is just to get everything out of your head and onto paper.

Budding memoirists are often inhibited by nagging fears such as "Will I upset my family?" or "Will they sue me?" If you're looking for commercial publication, it may be wise to change the name of anyone you might offend - or simply change all the names, including your own. James Alf Wight, for example, became James Herriot to write his famous series of books about his life as a vet, later televised as All Creatures Great and Small.

Using a pseudonym will also give you license to exaggerate, alter or rearrange events to create a better story. The Herriot books, for instance, are set in the 1930s to 50s but include some cases he actually dealt with in the 60s and 70s.

Before you embark on a full-length memoir, or while you're working on it, writing for magazines can be a good first step into print. The nostalgia mag Best of British is interested in personal recollections of toys, food, holidays, fads and the way we used to live in the 1930s through to the early 80s. A particular adventure from your life could make a real life feature in one of the women's weeklies.

If your memoir is work related, a trade or hobby magazine may be interested in a monthly column on the way things were done in your day. Regional mags, meanwhile, may be interested in articles or a column on the area in days gone by.

A regular column will build an audience eager to buy your book when it comes out. That's something prospective publishers will take note of, and will also be useful if you decide to self-publish. In fact, a series of columns could easily be compiled into a book for which you will have been paid, as you wrote it, before it's even published.

Douglas McPherson is the author of Start Writing Today.

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