Takeaways from Fast-Draft Your Memoir

Amazon recommended this book to me as a result of various searches on storytelling and writing. Fast-draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life Story in 45 Hours by Rachael Herron was a quick read and had some great guidance on writing memoirs.

One thing that appealed to me as I read the sample was the author’s humorous writing style.

You’re here either because you heard something about me, or because you accidentally one-clicked your way into purchasing the book and now you’re giving it a shot.

We arrive on this earth kind of stupid. You have to admit it. We can’t walk or talk. We can’t even hold a cell phone for the first few months of our lives.

Besides Herron’s writing style, her content resonated with me as well.

Especially in religious settings, people often give a testimony of how they were transformed. However, most people start their testimonies with, “I was born as the last of three children,” etc. This is an autobiographical style of sharing where you tell the story of your life. In a previous book post on Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks, I highlighted his recommendation to start where the action begins.

Herron wrote similarly …

No one wants to read the story of your whole life.

Memoir and Character Change

Herron defines “memoir” as …

The story of a specific slice of time in one’s life or the story of a specific theme in one’s life.

Herron devoted a significant portion of the book to the concept of change. The “baby” quote above is an example how obvious change is, but sometimes writers fail to show character change in their stories.

As readers, we’ve been trained to expect character change.

Nobody wants to hear about your perfect life. We want to hear how people failed, how they tried, how they made mistakes, and how they survived in spite of their imperfections.

For every great story about how you saved the day, we’ll need at least five embarrassing stories that show you broken in the same way your reader is.

Beyond a collection of stand-alone stories of success and failure, character change should occur from the beginning a story to the end. To help structure a memoir, Herron also wrote about overall story structure.

The easiest way to identify character change for a memoir is to complete the sentence, “I started out _____. I ended up _____.” Herron provided the following visual for guidance on story structure.

Story Structure

The plot points are “big things that happen.”

  • 25% mark – “when something took you out of your normal routine.”
  • 50% context shifting midpoint – “when you moved into action.”
  • 75% mark – the “Darkest Moment when all was lost.”

Writing Process

Herron described the following process to fast-draft your memoir …

  1. List six pivotal moments from your life that shaped you as a human being.
  2. Write a 6-word memoir for each moment.
  3. Pick one and write an elevator pitch based on the 6-word summary and the before/after change question (I started out, I ended up).
  4. List 10 “things that happened to you while moving from your early, unchanged self toward the self you want to show at the end of the book.”
  5. “Write 2-3 smaller things that contributed to each big event that happened.”
  6. Each big “thing” is a potential chapter, and each “smaller thing” is a scene within a chapter. Ten chapters x 3 scenes x 1,500 words per scene = 45,000 words (approximately 150 published pages).
  7. Edit and revise.

In my next post I’ll share my progress for steps 1-5.

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