Several journalists have participated in Michele Weldon’s Writing to Save Your Life memoir writing workshops during the past decade. While she finds that journalists are at an advantage because of their writing and reporting skills, there are still some caveats when the task involves making the transition from objective reporting to personal narrative. Here, she shares some advice:

Journalists and Memoir: Reporting + Memory
– Michele Weldon

  1. Be sure that you can back up with a document every claim, anecdote or scene involving another person named or unnamed in your book. Consult a libel attorney or intellectual property specialist for advice. The truth is a defense, and often not naming someone can help you avoid litigation. Your story must be true, and you must be able to prove it.

  2. Be sure your motivation is not vengeance. Take the high road, write about yourself and your life, omitting pieces that could harm anyone else’s life or could be seen as malicious.

  3. Move beyond chronology and a linear retelling of events. Choose the portion of your life to highlight that will yield a captivating story. Realistically, all and every part of your life is not the best reading. You do not have to tell your story from birth to the present. You can start in the middle and tell it with flashbacks and scenes or start now and work backward.

  4. Create scenes in each chapter, making sure there is a dramatic arc to the story. After years of writing articles and columns, it is difficult at first to write a chapter that is only a piece of the story to be continued. Resist the urge to have every chapter be its own entity. Each chapter builds up to what will follow.

  5. Introduce characters who will be developed fully in your narrative and will have some transformation or impact on your story. You may leave some people out, remembering that the reader will have to carry every person and every scene you write about, as if lugging a backpack up a mountain. You want to be sure the reader is doing all that heavy lifting for a reason.

  6. Omit anything that will ruin your career. Salacious items about sex, drugs, illegal activity, and rock ‘n’ roll may land you on the talk shows, but may bar you from future employment or may hinder your credibility. Don’t be mean to be funny, and just don’t be mean.

  7. Once released from the constraints of word counts, you may find yourself overwriting. Resist the urge to go on and on to describe each morsel as if it is a priceless artifact. Make sure there is an immediacy and urgency to the writing and that you shift the focus of your story from up-close to medium shots to context and overview. No one wants to read a book of your rantings.

  8. Answer the question: What does this mean to the reader? It cannot simply be you telling your story to make yourself feel better. How will readers connect? As cautionary tale? Inspirational story? Are you a role model? Is the story a peek into an undiscovered world? Is this an exposure or glimpse into an elite life others have no access to?

  9. Join a writing group for feedback, hire a book doctor, partner with an agent, then an editor who loves you. Make sure every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every page is your absolute best work and perfectly articulates your intent.

  10. Invite me to the book signing.

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