At first blush, students assume memoir essays to be the easiest of genres to write. After all, memoirs are all about the student’s life -- a subject intimately familiar to them. And, against the grain of most academic writing, students are allowed to use first person. Then, they start to write. And faced with the daunting task of telling their life stories in a few pages, or culling from those masses some significant incident, they are stalled and stymied.
Ironically, you actually can do research on yourself. Looking back at journals, photo albums and family videos is a good starting point but hardly a whole picture. You are surrounded every day by the people who know you best, so ask them some questions. Even if you’ve heard the story of your stormy birth a hundred times, listening to it again with the intent of writing about it might open up new questions -- and answers.
Choose a Climax
Unlike the more straightforward personal essay, memoir essays focus on events and life experiences that may hold particular significance to the writer or his reader. According to the online writing lab of Purdue University, “the memoir interprets, analyzes and seeks the deeper meaning beneath the surface experience of particular events.” A writer offering academic advice on how to be a self-advocate regarding a disability might speak of his own learning issues, thus representing himself and his audience.
Be Honest/Be Yourself
Even before Anne Frank penned her famous diary, the most effective memoirs were those that were the most honest. While some memoirs serve to aggrandize the writer, those that readers connect most passionately are frank works offering real-world scenarios and characters that resonate. By their nature, memoir essays are shorter affairs but still require an infusion of honesty and the writer’s own voice. If you are a humorist at heart, bring humor to your work. Whether an avid traveler, athlete or activist, speak to what is important to you and you will also speak to your reader.
Editing a memoir can be a doubly difficult task. Not only must you look for the usual culprits of poor writing such as bad grammar, poor vocabulary choice and unsound structure, you must also consider the big picture of your small essay. You’ll want to be sure that you have done a good job at representing yourself well and sending out your intended message. Even memoirs contain a thesis of sorts. Think about what your work says about you and make sure it’s the message you want to send.
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