The Challenges of Writing a Memoir

Writing a Memoir Challengers

Guest Post Written by Sandra Bullock Smith

Writing a memoir is a search for insight. Memoirs allow us to contemplate, question and evaluate. But more importantly, memoirs allow us to share our experiences with our readers.  

Your reader chose your memoir because he or she wanted to learn something.  So when writing, focus on what the reader will want to take away from this experience. Ask yourself, “who will want to read this memoir?”  and “what will make this memoir different from other similar books?”

Have a unique angle for your memoir.  My memoir was told through the lens of the role reversal I experienced when caring for my mother. There are probably many people with a story similar to yours.  You have to find a way to make your story unique.

Memoir by definition is “a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.”  So it is critical that your memoir is fact based, not embellished or invented. This can mean that your finished product doesn’t depict some of the characters in the most positive light. It may not even depict the author in a positive light.  My guiding principle was to tell the facts with compassion, empathy and truth without berating anyone.

Don’t divulge anyone’s secrets without permission. There is often a way to include the essence of that “secret” without causing irreparable harm.

Often authors have a large amount of material, history, etc., to include in a memoir.  Just because you have it doesn’t mean it should be included.  I love reading a book with beautiful prose where the words are meaningful, rather than simply adding to the word count.

I love Ernest Hemingway’s perspective on writing.  He said, “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way,” Urban legend tells that when challenged to write a complete story in six words, he wrote:  “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” While there is some debate about whether Hemingway actually wrote this, there is no doubt about the power of the six words.  Select the elements of your story that add to the insight you are trying to deliver. A good rule of thumb is to include the elements that really touched you and have the potential to touch your readers. Make your reader feel like he or she lived the story with you.

Caring for my mother changed me. Writing a memoir about caring for my mother changed me. It’s cathartic to read about those moments with the healing power of time on my side. I still cry when I read the book. I think of the things I learned and how those lessons can help me in the future. I have received touching feedback from readers about how my book helped them feel like they were not alone in their similar journey. That’s the kind of power of you want from your memoir. Strive for a story that transports you and your readers through the past and helps you in the future.

Finally, create a quality product from all aspects.  

Have your manuscript edited professionally. Have your cover art designed professionally.  Formatting the book for print and the various eBook sites can be a daunting task, unless you entrust that to a professional.  Make sure your marketing materials are compelling. You put a lot of work into writing a noteworthy memoir; don’t get derailed after the writing ends.


Sandra Bullock Smith Trading Places FinalTrading Places: Becoming My Mother’s Mother

Caring for an elderly parent can be extremely challenging. The role reversal involved is emotionally and intellectually demanding, and many caregivers find themselves unprepared to undertake such a difficult task.

In Trading Places: Becoming My Mother’s Mother, author Sandra Bullock Smith shares her personal experiences spending ten years caring for her ailing mother.

This heartfelt look at the trials and tribulations of that decade offers powerful insight and encouragement for anyone entering into a similar period of life. Smith’s touching stories share the heartbreaking, and sometimes comical, moments she experienced while providing assistance to her aging parent—and how they mirrored similar events from her own childhood.

In a very real sense, the two women traded places. Smith found herself uttering phrases she heard all too often as a child, such as, “Don’t give your food to the dog” and, “You’ve had enough sugar today.” Smith began jotting down the things she said, and thus this charming book was born.

Filled with respect, compassion, and love, this uplifting and amusing memoir is for anyone involved in elder care or who may face the role in the future.

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About the Author

Scott Mullins is a freelance writer and digital content manager. When he’s not finding ways to distract himself from writing his novel he writes killer copy for companies all over the world. Connect with Scott on Twitter @ScottMullins86 or LinkedIn. He’s always looking to connect with other writers.