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Narrowing Your Focus

How many times have we told our children, or heard teachers tell your children to ‘stay on task’? Same applies here. If you have to tell yourself a gazillion times that this is not an autobiography, then do so. As we learned last week, this is a piece of your story. A piece that was important or significant to you. A piece that can help or inspire others. To do this successfully, we must keep in mind to narrow our focus. A memoir does not need a lot of backstory. In fact, the less backstory, the better.

If I were to write a memoir about my DNA journey, I would have to start at the moment I found out my dad was not my dad. I would stick to the emotions of shock, anger, surprise, confusion and hurt. In my case, my dad and I had a rough relationship and he, in fact, knew I was not his. That would be an important piece of information to put in my memoir because it has a lot to do with the emotional aspect of my story. How when I found that out, our relationship made sense. Had my dad and I got along extremely well, there would be no need to bring up our “backstory”. I might, however, write a small blurb giving him kudos for raising a child that was not his. That is what is meant by limiting a backstory.

To write my memoir about my emotions regarding my DNA, my ‘focus’ would be just that: emotions. As I learned who my father was, that I have a younger brother, the events that led to my birth or when my father passed away, I would write a small piece to set up the scene, then the majority would be my emotions, feelings, thoughts and so forth.

Prince’s “Purple Rain” was an autobiographical account of his life. If he just wanted to focus on his music, then those would be the scenes you would see and very little of his home life. Or we may have learned about his home life through conversations he had with others.

One way to make sure you are narrowing your focus is to ask yourself the question we broke down last week: How does this scene relate to my theme or subject matter?

Another way is key point #2: Include more than just your story. In my example, I would turn to everyone’s favorite research engine Google and find out how common my story is, how other people reacted to such news and/or how they dealt with the discovery. This will achieve 2 things:

  • Help my readers (and me) know that we are not alone in this journey.

  • Help maintain my focus on my topic of emotions.

A few years ago, I wrote a self-help book called “When Caregiving Ends”. The idea came after my mother passed away. I had moved in with her to care for her. She was on dialysis and suffered from vascular dementia (which destroys short term memory). For 3 years, she was my life and when she passed, I had to reconfigure myself. One thing I did was send out questionnaires to those who had gone through similar experiences. It could have been a memoir, but I included a chapter on my mother’s life and by doing so, expanded the story past my focus.


Next week: Telling the truth and Putting your readers in your shoes


Until next time…



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