Writing A Memoir In Letter Format?

12 Jul

After Tuesday’s post of my third letter to Grace, I’ve been debating making a change with my memoir. I think I might focus on having it the book be my autobiography through letters to Grace (Grace is a 12-year-old girl that I know who has Cerebral Palsy as well). Having my memoir be mainly the letters would be easier than what I’ve been trying to do. Before thinking of this change, my memoir has been fine….but it’s been very much of a chore. I haven’t wanted to write it.

But the letters to Grace….they come easily. Even when referring to really hard memories, aiming the memories in a letter format to Grace feels much more natural….or it flows better. They’re easier to get out. And I feel like my readers would enjoy it more. Though I know that I shouldn’t focus on that, it still does come to mind. Granted, I wouldn’t just be starting the memoir with the 3 letters that I’ve written. I’d have to go back through what I’ve written regarding my memoir so far and pick out which memories I want to include in the letters.

I think using the letters as the basis of my memoir fits more with what I’m aiming to do by writing my memoir. I want people to be able to understand what I’ve faced but I also want other kids with CP and families with kids who have CP to realize that they are not alone in the pain that they’re feeling. The latter reason would definitely fit with using the letters as the focus since the letters are aimed at someone who has CP. That being said, I’d have to include a few chapters on CP in itself of course because I know that not everyone who will end up reading my memoir will have knowledge or experience with CP.

Since I have chosen to rework my memoir, it’s almost as if I’m back at the beginning. However, at the same time, I’m not. I’ve already made progress. As well as already having written 3 letters, I’ve already dug up a lot of the really hard memories. Granted, there are still some really hard memories to uncover, but since I’ve already written about some of the hard ones then this reworking cycle a little bit easier. The concept of the reworking feels very normal though. There are no writers who like the very first thing that they write. There is a reason that English professors and some of my writing mentors have told me that first drafts are complete shit. That’s because it’s true. They are.

As a writer, I’ve got to be willing to change things and rework what I’ve written since I want to make what I write as best as I possibly can. Plus, I think having my memoir be letters to Grace makes it more unique. Plus, with focusing my memoir on the letters, it also means that I’ll have the letters to give myself strength even if I don’t end up publishing them. Either way, writing them will be beneficial to me. And that’s all that matters. Well that and helping others with CP realize that they’re not alone. Plus, even though I’m writing my memoir, having the letters be the focus of what I’m writing takes me out of the center of the book. Yes, it’s an autobiography…so it’s my life…but who wants to read a memoir that reads something like this: “I went through (blah blah blah) and now I’m a stronger person…..I went through all this other shit…..I felt all this pain that you can’t understand…Me me me me.” Ick. Who wants to read that?

So…thoughts? What’s your opinion on focusing my memoir on letters to Grace? Better idea? Let me know what you think. I love having your feedback!

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22 Responses to “Writing A Memoir In Letter Format?”

  1. Besma at Life Demiraged July 12, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Hi Amelia, I really did enjoy your previous pieces, they were very well written and ‘tight’. And most important your endings came and ended beautifully. But I have to admit, the writing style of the letter was very different – very emotional. The writing ‘ran’ with your emotions. I understand how much easier it is to write to someone who understands your pain, because you know that person will be more sympathetic (of your situation) and non-judgemental (of your writing). I do realise you struggled a few times to write (you expressed it); but even those pieces came out beautifully in the end. Your series ‘When in Ireland…’ were all so interesting and informative. Those that haven’t visited Ireland where seeing it through your writing. And you were writing for us – all your readers. Writing letters is the easy way out. But consider the challenge, which you were doing so well at.
    In the end, whichever route you take, we (your readers) will support you.

    • ameliaclaire92 July 12, 2012 at 7:34 am #

      Writing letters is the easy way out as opposed to what? I understand that they were very emotional. That was the point. That was the reason I was writing them. I guess I’m just confused as to what you viewed as “the challenge.”
      The “When in Ireland” series is just something I started while I’m over here. It’s not connected with what I’m trying to write concerning my memoir.

      • ameliaclaire92 July 12, 2012 at 7:49 am #

        I think it’s also important to point out that either way, writing about what I’ve chosen to write about is hard. There really isn’t an easy way. It still hurts like hell to relive everything. I think I just meant “easier” in the sense that I don’t feel as stuck with the letters. Through the letters, I’m able to express what I’m feeling so much easier than if I were to sit and try to think of a painful memory to share. With the letters, even though Grace doesn’t have the same memories as I do, she has felt the pain. She still does. She knows what it feels like.

      • Besma at Life Demiraged July 16, 2012 at 5:41 am #

        I’ve been following you since you began your journey to Ireland, so the letter came as quite a surprise. The writing style was so different. It was directed to one person, and I felt like an intruder on something private. I guess I got confused. But really, whatever route you take your fans will support you. Wish you all the best.

      • ameliaclaire92 July 16, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

        Before Ireland my posts were primarily very, very personal.

  2. Laura July 12, 2012 at 6:07 am #

    I think that could be a great idea! And even if you don’t write the whole memoir in letter format, you can flip-flop back and forth between standard and letters. I say experiment, see what gets your words out and run with what works for you, because no matter the format you’re writing you always do it well 🙂 Now…have you tried to stalk Bono down yet? You know Lorelai would haha!

    • ameliaclaire92 July 12, 2012 at 7:37 am #

      I’ve considered flip-flopping since I know that certain things would flow better in the standard format better than they would in letters. Thank you so much for the support though, Laura. It means so much.
      And no…I am sad to inform you that I have not stalked Bono yet. However, I have indeed sat in pubs and drank and enjoyed soda crackers. More Lorelai-esque since they never did find Bono haha!

      • Laura July 12, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

        HAHA so true, she would be proud!

      • ameliaclaire92 July 13, 2012 at 11:38 am #

        I have no doubt!

  3. Wilhelmina Upton July 12, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    I think your memoir might very well benefit from including those letters to Grace but I’m not sure if you should focus solely on them. This is only my opinion but I think it would be good if the letters and real chapters would alternate so you get a chance to tell your stories in the real chapters and bring your emotions out in the letters. Well, these are just my two cents on this matter.

    However I wish you good luck with whatever way you decide to do it and as long as it is honest, you’re memoir will be a great thing.

    • ameliaclaire92 July 12, 2012 at 9:05 am #

      Yeah, I’m thinking of alternating. I like that idea better.

      • Wilhelmina Upton July 12, 2012 at 9:06 am #

        Yep, that’s a nice technique (if that is the right word to describe it)

      • ameliaclaire92 July 12, 2012 at 9:07 am #

        It is. 🙂

  4. Errign July 12, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    I agree with Laura – adding the letters would be a nice touch, but I do think that a lot of your memoirs will have to be in standard format to make sense to the reader who does not understand what you endure with CP.

  5. P. C. Zick July 13, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    You’ve gotten some sound advice here. I agree that the letters interspersed with regular prose would probably be a good touch. And that will give the letters even more power because those will be more emotional, more personal. I’m having a similar experience with my latest novel. In the second draft I decided to change point of view (rather to shift it every other chapter). Some days it feels as if I’m starting all over again, but it’s not. I’m just becoming much more acquainted with the three main characters.

    • ameliaclaire92 July 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

      Yeah, I didn’t consider that flip-flopping would end up giving the letters more power. That’s a good point. Good luck with your latest novel. 🙂

  6. LA Edwards July 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    I like the idea you have of writing letters. You could write the entire memoir as a compilation of letters, to grace or to the unknown recipient. Grace might not like that you publish purely her letters. She may feel that the letters are a personal item given to her from you and it may not go over well. She would have to agree. Most letters are very personal. I know from experience letters can be and often are very personal and I wouldn’t want them to published. That being said the idea is great! Why not try writing letters to a fictional person, The format would be like you were writing a letter and you would be able to get your feelings out easier perhaps than by merely writing a memoir in its generic form. Sorry if I repeated myself. Typing too fast as my mind is going a zillion miles an hour. Sorry about that. Keep writing and everything will eventually come easier and easier. That said, easier doesn’t necessarily mean easy. It means easy in the sense your thoughts may come out better written in a letter format. It is something that is not going to happen overnight. It will take much time and many renditions to get the perfect document you feel comfortable with. Even then you may not think it is that great. You merely have to trust in yourself that what you have is good enough to go through the editing process where your book will be ripped to shreds and handed back for a rewrite. Don’t ever let that discourage you. It happens to nearly all writers if not all. I never get a manuscript right the first time, second or even fifth time. I want to make changes as my thoughts change each time I read it and even then I may want to make more changes. That is when you realize you must stop. Package it oup and send it off. Hope that makes sense. We can talk about it later. Hope you are having a wonderful time in Ireland and don’t let the memoir haunt you. 🙂

    • ameliaclaire92 July 14, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      I haven’t ever intended to give Grace the letters. They’ve just been something that I started as blog posts.
      I don’t like the idea of writing the letters to a fictional person since this is my memoir and the story of my life. There’s nothing fictional about it. I feel like addressing the letters to a fictional person within a manuscript that I wish to be as nonfictional as possible wouldn’t be sticking with what I’m trying to do. Does that make sense?

  7. belasbrightideas July 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I love this idea! Anything that takes you out of the wrangling and resistance to writing is a good thing. Best to be in the flow, I think rather than struggling. I like the interspersing of letters with prose. I’ve experimented a bit with this in earlier blog posts, where I’ll write, as if doing a soliloquy off-stage, in italics. Then back to regular print. Gives it the feeling that the reader is getting something very intimate, the inside track on something. Good luck!

  8. Dominic Inouye April 4, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    Hi, Amelia. I’m glad I came across your blog. It’s beautiful and courageous. I haven’t read it all yet, but, based on this post, have you decided to write your memoir in the form of letters?

    I’m doing just that on my new blog ROAMING THE GREENWOOD (http://roamingthegreenwood.wordpress.com). The memoir, called “Out of the Box,” is a series of letters written between my mother and me over the course of ten years (1994-2004) after she discovered I’m gay. I’ve been posting 2-3 letters each day. I’d love it if you’d check it out (and I will do the same with yours) and welcome any feedback. Thank you in advance and I wish you well as you continue your journey.

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