national Arts Festival Banner

Friday, June 20, 2014


Writers Write will present Secrets of a Memoirist from June 25 to 28 in Durban:

Everybody has a story to tell. This is true. What is not true is that every story deserves to be published.

Many people think they have a story that is unique, or one that has never been told before, or one that is so shocking / amazing / sensational that a publisher will not only buy it, but also offer to write and edit it for them. This is not going to happen. Even if you are famous. It is a fallacy that celebrity equals book sales. Most readers of books are not interested in a book ‘written’ by a Kardashian or a Snooki

Many wanna-be writers think they just have to get it down and send it to someone, and magic happens. Or they truly believe it is who you know that gets you published. This means they don’t work on the writing. They work on trying to get published. Thankfully, most people don’t have the self-discipline to scribble down the usual first-draft essay that is submitted to publishers as a Memoir. 

However, if you are serious about telling your story, and if you believe you have a story worth telling, how do you make sure your story has a chance in a competitive marketplace?

Five Essential Tips for Writing Memoirs:

Have you done your homework? You should already be writing every day. An athlete or a musician or a chef needs to practise every day if they want to become good in their chosen fields. A writer is no different. Do your apprenticeship. Start a blog, keep a journal, and write for 30 minutes every day. Become comfortable with the writing process. Journal about everything you would eventually like to include in your memoir. 

Can you be honest? Readers pick up on writers who are trying to whitewash their memoirs, or present themselves as a tragic character. Readers want to know your truth – not the sugar-coated version of your story. Even if you were abused daily for 15 years, or you’ve been widowed four times, or you were kidnapped, you have to show yourself as a flawed, real person.

What is different about your story? How are you going to get the attention of agents, publishers, and readers? Your memoir should offer readers a new insight. There are no new stories and many people have been through versions of your story. You have to find a way to make your journey memorable. This is where the art of showing comes in. If you can show and not tell, you are more likely to get this right.

Going beyond survival. Great memoirs are never about the main character surviving. Most people survive. They are about what the main character does after surviving. Readers love to be filled with hope. They love to read about characters who triumph against the odds, even in small ways. If you get this right you will appeal to a large audience. Even if your book is about surviving grief, it should appeal to someone who has never experienced what you have gone through.

You need to know how to tell a story. Good writers know what to leave out of their memoirs. Most people who want to write memoirs include everything and this doesn’t work. Good writers know that the only scenes that have a place in a memoir are the ones that tell your story and stick to the theme of the memoir. Go on a writing course, research what makes a book readable, and read a lot of books. A great course on writing memoirs like Secrets of a Memoirist will show you how to do this.”

Writing a memoir is a beautiful, frustrating, exhilarating, time-consuming, life-changing, often painful, and always rewarding, experience. Good luck and happy writing.”

Secrets of a Memoirist will be presented from June 25 to 28 June in Durban. For more information contact Writers Write on email: or visit