Excerpted from "How to Write Your Own Memoir" by Abigail Thomas, The Oprah Magazine
Writing a memoir is a way to figure out who you used to be and how you got to be who you are. Still, as Raymond Carver once said, "What good is insight? It only makes things worse." Why dredge up a lost of dusty memories? Why remind yourself that the old days will never come back? Why remind yourself of your own mortality? (The word memory comes from the same root as the word mourn, and that should tell you something.) You will find there are many reasons to go look in the icebox or turn on the television, or reread Middlemarch. But pay attention to the little voice that whispers, "This part was interesting." Pay attention to everything. But the jumping-off place isn't always so obvious. You can't always find the way in. Sometimes you need a side door. That's where the exercises come in. Here's the one I give all my writing students the first week of the class: Write ... about a time when you were dressed inappropriately for the occasion. What occasion? Who thought you were inappropriate? That's up to you.
Why bother writing at all? Once in a while you come too close to a nerve, and your writing goes flat, and your first thought might be to change the subject. But this is the most interesting of moments. There is so much to be found out. Hiding behind that paragraph is probably something worth knowing. You can stare at the page and realize, "Hot dog -- this is a safe to be cracked!" Or you can crawl under the covers and take a nice nap.
I originally posted this as the kicker for my Chicks on Writ writer's group at Goodreads, and I thought I'd share it here too, since many of us have an interest in writing our memoirs. If you write a journal response to any of the exercises below or the one above, please post your blog address in the comment section so I can come and read what you've written.
The full text of this article, including 10 "side door" exercises to get you started, can be found at http://www.oprah.com/article/omagazine/200808_omag_memoir_how-to