Thinking About Writing a Memoir? Here's What You Need to Know
Adult services provided by the Westfield Memorial Library.
On March 9, Westfield Memorial Library members enjoyed a class on how to write a personal narrative memoir, taught by self-published memoirist Louis Alexander.
Why write a memoir in the first place? Alexander, author of 'Echoes from a Small Country Town,' explains that a memoir is a legacy to leave to your children and grandchildren.
“People read because they want to know more about something they don’t know. My family may never visit the town I grew up in, so this is a way for them to experience it for themselves,” he explained.
In addition to his family, Alexander was also influenced by journalist Tom Brokaw and author Garrison Keillor.
Alexander led participants through a step-by-step process on writing a memoir, with four basic ideas leading the discussion. First: everyone has a story to tell.
“Writing a memoir is like telling a friend or family member a story from the past. It’s not hard to do, we do it all the time!” said Alexander.
He also stressed that a memoir “narrows the lens” on a particular event or span of time in one’s life. It is different from an autobiography, which is in chronological order and requires a lot of research.
Second: words are power. Said Alexander, “If you can write something that takes the reader back to that time and place, that’s good writing.” He also explained how words can inspire people, citing the famous speeches of John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln as examples.
Third: people are nostalgic. “People like to go back into the past. Think of yearbooks, photo albums, paintings. They bring people back to another time,” said Alexander.
Lastly: anyone can write a memoir. “There are a few myths that are associated with writing a memoir--that you have to be either famous or a professional writer, that it has to be about your entire life, and that you have to be old. However, none of these things are true,” said Alexander.
Alexander used a process called “incident retrieval” to help the audience brainstorm ideas they might use to write their own memoir. With their eyes closed, participants listened to Alexander as he asked questions. “Do you remember a special Christmas or birthday? Do you remember your first day of school? Do you remember your high school or college graduation? These ideas form the basis, the start for writing a memoir.”
According to Alexander, the writer should “be chatty” in his or her memoir. “Think of it as if you are talking to a good friend you haven’t seen in a long time and you are bringing them up to date,” said Alexander.
“I began teaching these classes because I wanted to share my thoughts in the hope that other people will (write a memoir),” said Alexander. “Writing a memoir requires commitment. It has to be something you want to do because no one is going to do it for you.”
For more information on events and services at the Westfield Library, visit www.wmlnj.org.