I've started to write a full-length, book-sized memoir many times:
- I've tried from the "seat of my pants"-- no real sense of direction, just a way to "get it on the page" and worry about the rest later.
- I've outlined different time periods of my life. Sometimes on great big pieces of poster-board sized Post-its with miniature Post-its attached, complete with arrows and notes describing the relevance of the highlighted event to another highlighted event. It looked a little like I'm trying to get to the bottom of a conspiracy. Not so sure if I wasn't.
- I've worked from a structured outline, a "scaffolding" like Brook Warner talks about. (My word count using this was worked better than any of the other ways.)
I've learned that I need a combination of all of the ways, and different ways work better for writing about different times in my life. For example, when I thought the memoir was going to be about marriage, specifically my own, I started writing scenes about different times in my adult life when I had stated that I never wanted to get married.
The result of many of these drafts was more of a stream of consciousness about my life and relationships. The few people I shared it with had no idea what the time frame of a given scene was because I was jumping around my life, like the Bill and Ted Time Machine on speed-dial.
Not great for editing, but it was perfect to search for what it was I wanted to focus on. At that time, the themes did still revolve around marriage and relationships, but the time frame was off. I needed to reframe the story to when I was learning about these ideas.
So, I started from the beginning.
I followed my life from the age of about 7 until I was in my early 20s, and listed all the events in my life that could have contributed to my idea of what being in a relationship meant. I ended up with tons of material.
This isn't to say that I always kept on track as far as my chosen theme. Some of the tangents were giving it a "coming of age" feel. I left myself in high school on the page. And, similar to how I felt when I was in high school, I needed to get out of there for a while. I took a step back and looked at what I had so far.
I compared that to what I've had published so far. I had wanted to put those together in one place somehow, and it seemed like some of the scenes I wrote during this chronological dig of my life would work better in that collection than in the working memoir.
So, that's basically the timeline to today. I'm working though drafts and writing more to fill in some gaps in time. Although I don't plan for it to read like a standard memoir (read: novel-like), I do think it will be more or less chronologically accurate.
Can I get into a time machine to see how it turns out?
I personally love reading stories that play with a timeline, if it's done well. It works great in novels. But I think it takes a lot of talent to manage all of that really well. What do you think?