What time span does your memoir cover?

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nadja1972

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I'm curious because my current memoir draft covers a 20-year period, which I'm worried is too long. I do "skip the boring stuff" by leaping over certain years and collapsing some events, but I'm used to reading memoirs that deal with a very specific incident over a period of months or maybe a few years.

I fear I'm veering into autobiography territory, except it's not an "I was born on such-a-such date..." kind of story. I am focusing on two themes, it's just that these themes play out over 20 years of my life.

Has anyone here written a memoir that covers a decade or more? Do you think it's okay as long as I can keep the reader engaged throughout?
 

Emily Winslow

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Mine covers 13 months of present action, with memories of an inciting event from twenty years earlier.

I think a longer period can also work well, so long as you have a clear organizing principle and ruthless pruning. How many words is yours? Twenty years is a long time!
 

gettingby

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My memoir covers a few years. I do flashback into earlier times a little, but not too much. I have read so many different styles of memoir that I'm convinced there are many ways to approach writing about your own life. Just make sure you are telling the same story even if it spans 20 years. I had to cut out some of the flashbacks I wrote because they didn't belong in this memoir. That was a little hard because I liked the writing that I had to cut, but it just wasn't part of the story that I am telling in this memoir. So, keep an eye out for that.
 

nadja1972

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Hi Emily, my draft is 96,000 words so clearly I need to take your advice about ruthless pruning. I'm going to let it sit for a few weeks and go back in with fresh eyes and a sharp knife. I've wracked my brain for ways to shorten the time period, but my story is specifically about a long-term relationship, so it's tricky. Thanks for chiming in.

That's a great way to put it, gettingby: make sure I'm always telling the same story. I'll keep that in mind as I edit. I have the feeling some sections I love will have to get cut too. I'm encouraged that you don't think the time span is inherently a problem, though. Thanks for your take on this.
 

mayaone

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I am old and this is my second memoir yet my book's time span goes from 1964 to the present. I think as long as you write succinctly it will work. I am interweaving an experience in my memoir and although many readers don't care for a interweaved plotline, if it is done with passion and good editing, I am hoping it will work. The problem is explaining this in my query. I would appreciate any ideas?
 
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nadja1972

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Hi mayaone, is the interwoven part dominant enough that it needs to be mentioned in your query? Is it given equal weight to the rest of the manuscript? If not, you might not need to mention it. I think the important thing with queries, in addition to piquing an agent's interest, is to set an accurate expectation about the book. So it kind of depends on how central the interwoven part is. If you're willing to share some details, I can try to be more specific in my advice. Or feel free to PM me if you don't want to spill lots of info publicly.
 

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