In my previous post, I talked about how to structure your memoir. I also promised that Part 3 of this series on writing memoir would highlight editing techniques.
Before we get to editing, there’s another essential step in the process of writing memoir: research.
Don’t believe me? ask a sibling or a friend to describe one of your shared childhood memories, and I guarantee that the two of you will remember different things.
Memoirs are subjective accounts, but researching your own life story will spark new memories and vivid descriptive details. Having facts on your side also gives you more credibility with your readers.
Here are five easy strategies for researching your memoir:
1. Interview siblings, friends, and anyone else involved in the anecdotes you’re putting on the page. When I wrote my own memoir, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter, I interviewed not only my mother, brothers, and extended family, but also childhood friends and my father’s employees and coworkers.
2. Read through childhood diaries, family journals, and letters. If you don’t keep a journal, start one now. In fact, start several: have one in your car, one next to the bed, and one at your desk to capture memories and thoughts as they arise. Read the journals of other family members, too: my own grandmother’s five-year diary, written when my father was a child, provided valuable insights into my father’s character.
3. Look through photograph albums. Seeing the people, houses, cars, and outfits from the past will spark new ideas, anecdotes, and descriptions.
4. Read magazines and newspapers to gather facts about the time periods your manuscript covers. Archived articles can be a goldmine for not only news events, but dialogue, clothing, and the general atmosphere of the time. One terrific resource is Newspapers.com, an online archive of local, national, and international news sources.
5. Browse the library’s history room. Many libraries have rooms devoted to the history of their cities and towns; you will find town and city documents here, and primary source materials like journals and letters that will give you more background on the time period your manuscript covers.
You may not use all of the facts you uncover, but background research will enrich your story by helping you recover new memories and write with more accuracy, detail, and depth.
Is there anything I forgot to list here? Let me know what you’ve found helpful. I’d love to hear about it. Happy writing!
Next up: How to Write a Memoir, Part 4: Deciding on What Stays and What Goes. I promise.