Every book has a known and an unknown. For a memoir, the unknown is the connections.
Working from a database of what you remember, what you may have previously written down in a journal, or what others may remind you is the raw material of memoir. As such, it may seem like just execution to get it all down.
But what if you took time to think on the page? To dig, not only into why something happened, but what it meant for other times in your life?
The ability to make those connections is what will matter to the reader, not the details of your life. The connections are what connects.
There is a part of the writing process where asking the right questions is the best thing you can hope for…and also, all you need.
The whole point of asking a question is you don’t know the answer. And if you want a real answer, it can’t be something you already know — therefore, you have to wait. And sit with the question, and not whine, and not short-circuit the period of not knowing by a desire to be comfortable/rush through discomfort by getting easier answers that are not yet full ones.
People who like certainties won’t like questions. People — like writers — who enjoy discovering new things…just might.
After thirty years of studying the craft, I finally get it. It’s about the reader, not the writer. Your work has to reach the reader, it has to open out to the reader, it has to be about the reader, even just analogically.
No one really cares about you. When I say this to clients, whether they are writing memoir or prescriptive non-fiction, there is a gasp or a moment of uncomfortable silence while this fact is recognized and accepted.
Once it has been accepted then we can take the next step and say, it may not just be about the reader. It may look more like this (Venn diagram alert!):