What not to write

When we embark on writing our memoirs, we do not need to interview members of your family – not formally, at any rate. No-one will be very pleased to think that you are writing your memoirs and listening to their stories for that. (They would probably prefer you were writing their memoirs for them.)

If you are ready and willing to write, but you are unsure about what is allowed or not allowed, perhaps these further tips about what not to write will help bring extra clarity.

Just because you are writing your memoir, doesn’t mean you have to tell the full story of every significant other in your life. You can’t, so just select the parts of those lives which intersect with your own, and which lend colour, interest and meaning.

Try to keep the details you borrow from other people non-contentious. You do not need to tell the story of your cousin’s murder, unless it directly impacted your life. You may have had a life-long bond and ended up truly traumatised by her death, but if not, please resist the urge to borrow colour from the lives of other people. They will not be amused.

If something needs explaining, perhaps you have not laid the ground firmly enough. Go back and rewrite your material at least a dozen times, to check and prove it for consistency and clarity.

Remember that readers do not have your context, so avoid clichés, private language, and be prepared to explain or elucidate with a few well-chosen words or phrases. Remember that your readers only know what you have told them from your book. Internal consistency is helpful.

It is normal to write 120,000 words and get rid of half of them. If in doubt about anything, delete and reconsider or re-write. You will not regret caution, but you will regret not being cautious enough. That said, a cautious approach does not mean cautious writing. Keep it flying!

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