Asking for advice on how to structure my Memoir

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Jan 6, 2019
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Hi guys,

I am posting here for the first time, to ask for feedback and advice on how I should structure my memoir. I’ve started writing part of the first draft, hoping the structure I chose would feel like a good fit, but I’m still very conflicted about it and I’m unsure if I’m going down the right path.

The question I’m trying to answer is - what would the reader prefer?

Book Overview: my memoir is of the past few years of my life. I’m an Australian who has lived in London and Dubai for three years, during which time I travelled extensively and have many a tale to tell as a result. Many things happened during this period which lead to my burnout and subsequent ill health. At the end of the three year period I became very ill with ME / CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and so I moved home to Australia. I’ve spent the last three years learning and growing and working my way through the healing process. I have changed as a result.

The memoir will be an account of this, told with warmth and humour, hopefully entertaining and inspiring readers. It would NOT be aimed at only people who have experienced the illness, but rather anyone is going through something difficult and could do with some enlightenment on how to learn and grow and keep going when it seems all hope is lost.

I see three acts, or sections, to the book. The first is the London / BEFORE phase - this would be the most entertaining, humorous and easy-to-read part of the book. The second is the DURING (CFS) phase - this would be the Debbie Downer / Negative Nancy part, it could be quite hard to read as this is when I was at my worst health wise and mentally quite hopeless and it might be a slog for the reader to get through. The third and final part is the THEN phase - i.e what I’ve learnt and the takeaways from all of this, ending things on a brighter note.

(I should mention that I’m not actually really any better health-wise yet, but I’ve realised that’s no reason for me not to live my life as best I can and get writing regardless!)

These are the three structure options: (if there is a fourth please let me know!)

1 - Chronologically / linear beginning with my arrival in London until now.

My concern about this structure is that, for the reader, they’ll fly through and enjoy the first part in London/ Dubai and then get bogged down in the middle / second section and this might make them stop reading. Who wants to pick up a book where day after day of reading is “woe is me”, “things are awful”, “waaaaahhh”???

2 - Beginning with the second phase (i.e. having CFS) and chronologically continuing until now but with flashbacks to the London / Dubai part.

Akin to Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert worked chronologically through her year but then included pertinent flashbacks of what helped her get to where she was at that moment. Another example would be Wild, which chronologically followed Cheryl Strayed’s hiking of the PCT trail but included memories of what played a role in her getting there.

My concern about this structure is that one needs to be an exceptionally good writer to blend and weave it all together seamlessly and smoothly. The only work I’ve written really was my University Thesis - which is quite a different kettle of fish!

3 - A repeating, cyclical structure - BEFORE, DURING, THEN

Still working chronologically within each section but having one chapter on each section before rotating back. For example BEFORE 1, DURING 1, THEN 1, BEFORE 2, DURING 2, THEN 2 etc.

This is a metaphor for life in a way - life is cyclical. Mother Nature is cyclical in it’s seasons, animals go into and out of hibernation and we humans need to remember that this is the normal pattern of life, things are up and then down and then back up and so on.

My preference is for this third option as I think it will afford the reader variety - each section would be slightly different tonally. My concern about this option is that it will feel jerky, rather than flowing through the book, the reader will feel yanked about.

So. Comrades. What do you think?

I very much appreciate any and all feedback on this.


Siri Kirpal

Swan in Process
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Sep 20, 2011
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In God I dwell, especially in Eugene OR
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

You may be surprised to learn that the upbeat section is the one that most folks will find boring. That said:

Chronological is easiest to write. Try it first, unless your gut/muse/heart says otherwise.
I've found cyclical books to be a pain to read, but if that's what interests you, you should do it.
Personally, I like in medias res (starting in the middle), then going to the beginning and working to the end. (Not that I always manage this.)

HOWEVER...write what your heart says to write. Writing to a formula rarely works.

And btw, welcome!


Siri Kirpal

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