Whether it’s something that you simply want to leave for your children or grandchildren to read, or whether you went through something life changing or traumatic and feel that writing a memoir will help you exorcise some demons – as a cathartic exercise – then it’s time to stop thinking about it and actually doing it.
Writing your memoir is easier than you think. Starting is always difficult but if you make a promise to yourself to write about 1,600 words every day for a month, then you will have the bones of a manuscript written and ready to be edited – either by you, or you can hire a professional editor to fine tune your writing and breathe life into your words.
As an author, I feel very passionately about trying to help other people achieve their writing dreams. So many people say they wish they could write a book, or they plan to write a book ‘one day.’ Why not start with your memoir and use that old cliché, ‘Write what you know.’ I believe everybody has a story – even if you think your story is dull, I refuse to believe there is such a thing as a dull person, a dull life. Everyone has a unique life journey and there is no reason to believe that your life journey is not as interesting as another person’s.
Start by thinking about the stories you have told people in the past. My mother would keep us entertained for hours telling us stories about growing up on a farm in the West Australian Wheat Belt. We heard about neighbouring farmers who had two little boys. A tragedy occurred when the boys went up to a tree house with a box of matches, started a fire…and you can guess the rest. The parents left the area and were never heard from again. I’ve never forgotten that story. But even my mother’s simple stories about life on the farm, rescuing lambs, crazy antics with her brothers and sister, living through drought.
And there was a time an Aboriginal man escaped from prison and hid on their farm in the bush for some time before he was sadly caught again. This story alone has become the basis of a feature film script I have written that will, hopefully, be made in the next couple of years.
So, why don’t you start by writing down some memories? Just write down random memories as they enter your head, as bullet points. Trust me, when you write them down, one after the other, it not only reads like a fabulous poem, but it will spur you onto remember other things and then you can focus on which chapter of your life you choose to write about. For me, I decided to write a book based on the four years I lived in Hong Kong as a TV reporter. That part of my life was incredibly rich and filled with humour as I was the unofficial ‘natural disaster reporter’ and was once practically swept off my feet by a typhoon and ended up in the harbour.
The possibilities are endless. There’s a fabulous book called Misadventures by Sylvia Smith and she writes short, snappy chapters about her teenage years, up until her mid-20s, when she dated a series of men; some were comical, others had the reader feeling dreadfully sorry for her. But, all her stories feel so raw and real. So just choose what you want to write about, start with some bullet points. Then turn your bullet points into chapter headings, for example, ‘The Night I kissed Gary” and then write a few paragraphs, as though you were telling the story to a close friend. Okay, get started now. Once you start writing, you will find it very difficult to stop. And then you will feel so proud of yourself for finally moving on that story about yourself you’ve always wished to write. Self-pride is a great feeling, so get started now, please!
LJ Charleston is a Sydney-based journalist and author of The Mommy Mafia: the urban dictionary of mothers, and Fatal Females. She has three sons; she will love them until the Sydney Opera House sails away.