Memoir Tip #117: Writing the First Draft

Writing the first draft is often difficult, but it is the key to your success. Unlike fiction writing where the end is not always clear; in memoir we know how the story ends. However, memoir has it’s own complications. Sometimes we get so caught up in the message we want to portray that we stifle the action or omit situations because we’re afraid they don’t show support for what we ultimately want to say. Other times we worry about what people will think about us or what they may think about the way we portray them in our story. When we hold back on the first draft we often find ourselves with a flat story; which is the last thing we want. My recommendation is don’t think about any of that when writing the first draft. Instead sit down and allow yourself to write freely. To write freely keep the following things in mind:

  1.  Don’t think about a message you want to send your readers, write what happened starting with the trigger or inciting incident
  2. Don’t dismiss anything that comes up, write down every situation that comes to mind in relation to the story you’re telling, even if it seems unrelated or tangential 
  3. Don’t worry about what other people might think or say, write exactly what happened from your perspective
  4. Don’t get stuck only in emotions and internal thought, write down the action in each situation 
  5. Don’t try to make sense of the events and flow of the story, just get the different situations down on the page

The first draft is meant to be a starting point, not a finished product. If you sensor yourself this early in the process you are likely to miss some of the best insights and situations. It is often in the moments that seem unrelated or tangential that we find tension and conflict that adds to the story we are trying to tell. Sometimes our portrayal of people says more about us than it does about them. And when we write the action of each situation we often see things in a different way which leads to new insights. Allow yourself the freedom to write everything in this first draft; after all, you will have plenty of time to massage your message, clean up your portrayal of people and omit unnecessary information during the revision process. 

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