How do you know if your life is interesting enough for a memoir?

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gettingby

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This is a hard question I think because everyone does have a story to tell. I've written some really good chapters that are interesting (i believe), but my whole story is not interesting. My story covers a four-year span where I had to face something extremely difficult and would never be the same because of it. I like the idea of this memoir very much, but the last chapter I wrote was boring. I will probably cut or rewrite it, but I can already see this happening again. The book was a suggestion from one of my professors based on an essay I wrote for class on this same part of my life. I do believe the essay was good, but how do I know if it is really enough for a book? The essay was 5k or 6k words and not boring at all. But maybe I just don't know what's boring or not when it comes to this story. How do you avoid being boring? How do you know if your boring? And how do you know if what you are focusing on in your memoir is interesting enough for a book-length piece of work?
 

Chris P

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I think not being boring comes down to writing technique rather than subject matter (well, for the most part). The memoirs that stick with me are usually about regular people living regular life. Taking care of an autistic brother, being in a local band after a divorce, going on a quest to expose a bunch of hypocrites as hypocrites. All of that can be boring or it can be entertaining, emotional, and enlightening. What makes the big difference for me is that the author is on a journey where he or she ends up in a better place emotionally, physically, etc. I once had a teacher tell me to think of all books as if they were The Odyssey by Homer. Compare where the MC is on page one and page "The End." Is the story a journey? Is there a followable progression? Does every part of the story move the character through that progression?

I said "for the most part" because I recently gave up reading a memoir where the author's greatest challenge was that her college boyfriend dumped her in a rather non-spectacular and actually pretty decent way. It was a spiritual memoir, and her faith journey mainly consisted of people telling her things and she saying "Gee, that makes sense." Nothing too challenging there. That's also part of why I've not seriously considered writing my own memoir: nothing too challenging and I'd need to find the right way to present it.
 

thothguard51

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How do you know if your life is interesting enough for a memoir?

Ask ten random strangers if they have ever heard of you and what they heard...
 

Gringa

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"You should write a book."

When you hear this ^^
 

Jamesaritchie

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One of the best memoirs I've ever read was about a botanist who did nothing extraordinary. He simply wrote about his love of botany, brought me into that world, made me part of that world, and kept me captivated by the incredibly good writing.

I would never say that every life is worth writing about. It's a nice thought, but I really doubt it's true. I do think a great many lives are worth writing about, however, and there's no reason yours isn't.

The question is can you write about it well enough to bring readers into your world, to make readers part of your world, and can you captivate them with the quality of the writing?
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Personally, I was in the middle of grieving a friend's suicide, took a look at my own life in comparison with his, and saw my own character arc.

But yeah, I agree with those who say it's primarily the way it's written.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Jim Williams

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I wrote my memoir after a number of people told me my life's events were interesting enough, although I always found them to be predictable within the extreme conditions in which I've lived.

I found I've relied on the events themselves to generate interest before how I felt about them myself. From the reactions of those whom I've convinced to read the book, including myself, it's apparent my life could be more interesting, than the story I've made out of it.

I'd say one's personal interest in one's own story may make it interesting enough for a memoir.
 

khobar

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Don't worry about whether it's been interesting enough right yet; that's just putting obstacles in your way before you begin.
 

Jim Williams

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Don't worry about whether it's been interesting enough right yet; that's just putting obstacles in your way before you begin.
Somewhere there is someone who can make anybody's story interesting, even the already interesting ones. I figure by the time I'm finished fiddling with mine, I better be one of those people.
 

Ink-Pen-Paper

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"You should write a book."

When you hear this ^^
I get this all the time. Although I do not consider myself as having lived anything approaching an extraordinary life, my psychiatrist has explained to me why this is frequently told to me, I am a survivor. Survived being dead (not long enough dead to stay dead though), deadly diseases, life in general and short periods of very boring life in specific, such as being in the military. Oh, and being transgender, something another Bruce and I have in common besides age.

I would rather write about the life of my main protagonist than myself. Which is why I do not have more than a few sentences completed of my auto-biography during the several decades since first told those infamous words, "you should write your story".
 

Roxxsmom

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As I understand it, memoirs are focused on a particular event or period in someone's life. The person themself may not be famous, or even particularly important, but they had some experience or lived through something that is of interest to people who don't know them personally.

So if I wrote a narrative that focused on, say, my experience teaching at a college in a small town in Northern NY, or on some particularly interesting historical event I lived through, then it would be a memoir.

I kind of wish my brother had the time to write a memoir about his experience with surviving cancer when he was in his early twenties, then going on to become an oncologist. That's the kind of thing that might grab my attention in a bookstore, even though I don't usually read memoirs or autobiographies about people I'm not already interested in from a historical standpoint.

So if you're writing a memoir, you don't have to worry about whether your entire life is interesting enough (the way you would for an autobiography), just about whether there's something you did or experienced during your life that is. It's hard to say for sure what kinds of experiences might fit the bill. Some people have a way of making relatively mundane events interesting or hilarious.
 
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Fruitbat

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Right, it certainly does not have to cover all the years of your life, but it's still self-exposure. I'm sure some people are more okay with that than others. I'd probably rather do a self help, how-to, or other nonfiction book on the topic and include quotes from other people's experience as well as my own. So that's another possibility.
 
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Jamesaritchie

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Right, it certainly does not have to cover all the years of your life, but it's still self-exposure. I'm sure some people are more okay with that than others. I'd probably rather do a self help, how-to, or other nonfiction book on the topic and include quotes from other people's experience as well as my own. So that's another possibility.

We tend to agree on this. One of the main reasons I use several pseudonyms, and do all sorts of things to keep them separate from my real life, is because being a writer means putting your life out there for everyone to see, and there are things, I really, really don't want anyone to know, at least until after I die.
 

Emily Winslow

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I'm going for it, memoir with my real name. I feel good about it. It comes out in six months.

I see myself in it in two ways: as the subject, and as the writer. I'm really proud of it as the writer, which is what I'm focusing on. As the subject, it could be argued that I was as much an observer as a participant. (That's the emphasis I think of, perhaps in psychological self-defense ;-)

I can't really predict how I'll feel once it's published; that will depend on public reaction, I suppose. But from here it feels right.
 

GetShorty

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I think not being boring comes down to writing technique rather than subject matter.


I totally agree and this is what I strive for when writing. A little humor goes a long way in telling any story.
 

elizabeth13

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It's about emotional arc rather than interesting. I know many interesting people who don't have an emotional arc, and so a memoir from them would be a series of disconnected anecdotes rather than a story.

I've always thought that it's worth trying to write as fiction to make the call. If you changed names and facts, would the story be compelling as fiction? If not, then it's not compelling as memoir either.
 

frimble3

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I think my life is boring, but interesting enough things have happened to me. I think the voice and how the author presents everything is what makes it "dull" or not.

One of the best memoirs I've ever read was about a botanist who did nothing extraordinary. He simply wrote about his love of botany, brought me into that world, made me part of that world, and kept me captivated by the incredibly good writing.
(snip)
The question is can you write about it well enough to bring readers into your world, to make readers part of your world, and can you captivate them with the quality of the writing?

(snip)Some people have a way of making relatively mundane events interesting or hilarious.


Jamesaritchie hit the nail on the head, in my opinion. Some people live through dramatic events, or have particularly interesting lives, but I've read memoirs about fairly mundane childhoods, or parts of people's lives, where what really made the book was the description of the time and place.
The description either of something that I'll never experience, or that shows me new aspects of something I have experienced.
That's not up to the accident of fate that is one's life, that's a good writer doing a great job.
 

MaeZe

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My parents are dead and my son already knows the worst things I've done. But I'd have to be retired before I could reveal a lot of my life, and I have 3 books in the queue. But if I finish my sci-fi YA duology and my non-fiction, The Real History of Nursing, I would consider a memoir.

I think what makes my story worth telling is that no one else has lived a life like mine, and it is definitely filled with a roller coaster full of drama.

Of course by the time I tell it, if I ever do, all those false memories are going to be so fun to relive. :tongue
 

draosz

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When I think a reader could learn something valuable and unique from my life, I'll think about writing autobiography. As others have said, "interesting" is how well it's written.
 

MichaelAnthony

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I once read a quote from Hitchcock that was something along the lines of "A good story is true life, just with the boring parts taken out."

I'm sure there are interesting things that have happened to you. Connect the dots using those stories and leave out the boring stuff.

There are reality TV shows about people who work at Pawn Shops, drive Ice Trucks, that are Kardashians, and Bachelors, and people who are just buying houses.

Whoever you are, and whatever your story is, I'm guessing there's an audience out there for you, it's just about finding them. I'm guess, and I can be wrong here, but I'd assume no one knew they'd be a fan of a reality TV show about Pawn shops, until they actually watched it.
 

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How do you know if your life is interesting enough for a memoir?

Ask ten random strangers if they have ever heard of you and what they heard...

I respectfully can't accept this as a good way to judge if a life is interesting or not. You are suggesting that if the person being written about is not widely famous, their story isn't worth telling. I am writing a bio/memoir of my late husband's life that was absolutely amazing and interesting. He was one in a million and by the time people have read halfway into his story, they will most likely agree with me. I told my stepdaughter, that as far as I am concerned, he could easily have been another Glenn Gould (Canadian pianist icon) had he had the support of his parents like Glenn did. My husband was an orphan born of a brilliant and well-known father who seduced and impregnated his teenage mother when she was a servant in this man's home in England. He never had the support of parents at all, yet he had a wonderful music career among many other careers. He had bipolar disorder as well, which made life very difficult for him. Were I to ask 10 random strangers if they had heard of him, they would likely say no. However, hundreds of people, if not thousands were entertained by him and his music students.
 
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Siri Kirpal

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I respectfully can't accept this as a good way to judge if a life is interesting or not. You are suggesting that if the person being written about is not widely famous, their story isn't worth telling. I am writing a bio/memoir of my late husband's life that was absolutely amazing and interesting. He was one in a million and by the time people have read halfway into his story, they will most likely agree with me. I told my stepdaughter, that as far as I am concerned, he could easily have been another Glenn Gould (Canadian pianist icon) had he had the support of his parents like Glenn did. My husband was an orphan born of a brilliant and well-known father who seduced and impregnated his teenage mother when she was a servant in this man's home in England. He never had the support of parents at all, yet he had a wonderful music career among many other careers. He had bipolar disorder as well, which made life very difficult for him. Were I to ask 10 random strangers if they had heard of him, they would likely say no. However, hundreds of people, if not thousands were entertained by him and his music students.

Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Sounds interesting to me!

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

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