- Memoir is not an autobiography but rather a selected aspect of a life. No event in your life is too small, but the details are important.
- There is a universality to memoirs.
- Honesty and Sincerity: Is the narrator authentic? When you are talking about yourself, you are talking about all of us to a certain degree; that’s the universal element. The struggle for emotional truth is central to memoir.
- Intimacy: The hallmark of memoir is its intimacy with its audience.
- Language in memoir is conversational, everyday, direct.
- Humor: Be willing to laugh at yourself, reveal your foibles. We all have them.
- Self-Reflection: The essence of memoir is the track of the writer’s thoughts struggling to understand some event in her life. What have you learned from this event?
- Character: In writing memoir, you have to make yourself into a believable character. What do you want to know about the people you write about, including yourself?
- Scenes: Vignettes, episodes, slices of reality are the building blocks of memoir. Get the reader into the scene with you. What’s happening? Who’s there? What’s the interaction?
- Voice and Tense: Start with the personal I (1st-person narrative). Start in the past tense. You are writing about the past in the present. This is what happened then; this is what I know now. You can write in the present tense later!
- Purpose: What’s the purpose in writing memoir? Self-discovery, understanding another, healing a relationship, finding a broader perspective, telling a story that must be told?
- Have fun!
Maureen Murdock has been on the psychology faculty at both Pacifica Graduate Institute and Antioch University in Santa Barbara, but her real love is memoir writing. To that end, she is teaching in Pacifica’s new Memoir Certificate Program. Since 1990, she has taught memoir writing in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where she received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award in 1995. She is the author of the bestselling book The Heroine’s Journey, which explores the rich territory of the feminine psyche; Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory; Fathers’ Daughters: Breaking the Ties That Bind; Spinning Inward: Using Guided Imagery with Children; and The Heroine’s Journey Workbook. She is the editor of an anthology of memoir writing entitled Monday Morning Memoirs: Women in the Second Half of Life and has published a Kindle short entitled The Emergence of Bipolar Disorder: A Mother’s Perspective. Maureen volunteers for AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project), working with men in prison, and has presented short memoir pieces at Center Theater in Santa Barbara and Spark Theater in Los Angeles about the men she works with. Read her blog on www.maureenmurdock.com.