Sheila Lowe is the author of the Forensic Handwriting suspense series and the Beyond the Veil series. You can find out more about her on her website www.sheilalowebooks.com, or by clicking here, see her last post here, and buy her books here.
Twenty-three years ago, when my daughter was killed by her boyfriend, I knew I would write her story. A title came to me right away: Growing from the Ashes. Yet, I couldn’t do it. The ending was just too sad. As a mystery author I write books about murder all the time. But those crimes are solved and by the end of the book there is a satisfying conclusion. Who wants to read a book that ends with the murder/suicide of a beautiful, smart, talented young woman and the man she once loved?
Fast-forward to the end of 2022. I found a way to tell Jen’s story with a spin that might make her loss help others—to tell my story, too. Or, the parts of it that led to a spiritual awakening. I was raised in a fundamentalist religion that allowed for no contact with the spirit world (“that’s the demons”), but through my daughter’s murder I came to learn that there is no death, only life after earth. And that’s the story I told—my path to spiritual freedom.
Let me tell you, writing about yourself is freaking hard!!! Over my career as a handwriting expert and mystery author I’ve done literally hundreds of interviews. Interviewing myself and laying bare my mistakes as well as my triumphs is truly a whole other story.
My first step was to read a couple of books and listen to podcasts on memoir writing. If you are considering writing your own, I recommend Fast-Draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life Story in 45 Hours by Rachael Herron. It’s in audiobook form, too. I learned many good tips from this book, including the advice to write your memoir like a novel. I had planned on starting with the arrival of my daughter on earth, but soon realized that the book had to begin with her departure.
A few pieces of Herron’s advice that I followed:
- First get your reader to know you so they will care about you and what happens in your life.
- Be visceral – don’t just write the facts, make the reader feel the events you are sharing.
- Add dialogue wherever you can to bring the story alive.
- Stick to your own point of view, which means writing first person (something I had not done before).
- Don’t try to tell your entire life story (unless the whole thing is fascinating).
- Give your memoir a central theme.
I made a list of events along my life that seemed important and led the reader to understand why I, and later Jennifer, made the choices we did. Then I cut the ones that were irrelevant to the story I wanted to tell—my spiritual journey. Just as when I’m outlining a novel, I wrote a paragraph about each item on the list, and then expanded the paragraphs. Oh, look! A page! And that became many pages and many chapters that are short vignettes.
As a not-so-fast writer, I was stunned to find myself having this book finished in 27 days. I spent the next month editing and tweaking, and then it was out in the world. Scary, but satisfying.
If you have a life story you need to tell, settle on a theme, and start writing. Even if you never do anything more than revisit your life or share it with family, I bet you’ll be glad you did.