Lesson number one: Do not think you can anticipate the reactions of those around you to your new book. You’ll be pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised.
Lesson number two: If you’re depicting real life characters, as I was, write their true names into the scenes so that the interactions have their original vitality. This brings a sense of immediacy to your work and fresh energy to you as a writer. Besides, if you so choose, you can change the names later using a word search. Just don’t depend on proofreading to do it. This is not an original suggestion, but I can tell you it works. If you pen the fake name, you won’t bring the drama to the page.
Lesson number three: Stay in the moment of what you’re writing. While it’s good to gain perspective on life events so that as a memoir writer, you’re sharing reflections rather than blabbering into the reader’s ear, it’s essential to keep processing as you’re writing. Nothing is more boring than telescoping so far back that it sounds as though you’ve written about someone else, without feeling. Keep your reactions immediate and your insights fresh. Use non-clichés, especially in dialogue.
Lesson number four: It may seem contradictory but try to work out your family dynamics and issues as best you can before you start to write. The written word is no substitute for resolution. Your heartfelt emotion is best delivered in person, so the other person has the chance to react. Otherwise, reading memoir text renders the other party passive with no outlet and may be extremely wounding or even unjust. This is, after all, your version of events. Your book is a form of communication, not a stand-in for doing your life homework.
Lesson number five: While zeroing in on personal idiosyncrasies that give your character personality, remember to zoom out and contextualize the person in terms of their own background and experience. If you don’t enter the psychic space of your character, you haven’t done your job as a writer. You’ve only written your own point of view. And since writing memoir creates an evolution in the writer and reader, let it begin and end with compassion.