I’m really glad you asked this question in my memoir writing workshop last week:
“What three qualities do people who complete their memoir have?”
Since then, I’ve consulted two authors of published memoirs who sent me their three qualities. Then, I came up with four. All in all, we now have ten personal qualities that help lead to a completed memoir.
Ronald Mackay, author of A Scotsman Abroad http://editura.mttlc.ro/ronald-mackay-scotsman-abroad.html (about a two-year period of his life in Romania, and published on line by the University of Bucharest in 2016) sent me these:
“Be daring”: I found I needed to ‘screw my courage to the sticking place’ just to overcome self-doubt and the fear of appearing self-indulgent by writing about my own life.
“Avoid temptation”: When I worked in Bucharest, I was a ‘babe-in-the-woods’. Nevertheless, I decided to write from that ingenuous perspective and not as my older, hopefully wiser, self.
“Plow on regardless”: While I might forget precise dates, the names of places and people and exact details, I avoided being slowed up by research that would have added little value.
Sheila Wright, author of Amare: A True Italian Love Story https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/amare-a-true-italian-love (about falling in love in, and with, Italy, was published by iUniverse in 2009), sent me the following:
A strong feeling of urgency and inevitability. Almost like giving birth, once the story had grown inside of me, there was no keeping it from coming out.
A belief that I have universal truths to express, that readers will relate to me and find common ground. Maybe even see themselves in my story and say “Yes, I have felt that!”
A strong history of journalling — that desire to record and remember. And perhaps a fear of losing those precious memories. I want to keep them fresh for myself, and for my children.
And mine, which are everywhere in my book The Gift of Memoir, but not in this succinct organized fashion:
The self-discipline to show up. Making the commitment to write a certain number of hours a day or week, then actually sitting down and writing, is crucial. Freeing up the space to create – or re-create – your world in words, gives you the freedom to enter the past. As Margaret Atwood put it, ya gotta “get ass in chair.”
Curiosity. Writing a memoir is setting out on an adventure. Like deep sea diving, or hiking the Camino trail, it is the anticipation of unknown discoveries that grabs your imagination. What will you remember that you had forgotten? What will you learn about yourself? What will it feel like when your book is in your hands, bound in a form meant to last through the generations?
Generosity. When you write your stories, you give to others. Every sentence, and the thought behind it, is a gift to someone who will one day read your stories. “Give, give, give; write, write, write,” is a message from your generous higher self.
Trust. Trust that you will get there. Writing a memoir is a journey. It has a beginning, then it has pitfalls, great highs, doldrums, night sweats, gems, and then it has an ending. Of course, the raft on which you are crossing the ocean may be rammed and broken into pieces by a maddened humpback whale (its partner endangered by whalers), leaving you treading water … but along comes a sail boat and picks you up. Picks you up. Somehow, changed in some way, you get there … to journey’s end.
Steve, many thanks for inspiring me with your question. I hope you get a chance to read A Scotsman Abroad (free on line) and Amare: A True Italian Love Story (available at Indigo).