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2 Tips For Writing Your Physician Memoir

Many doctors ask me about writing memoirs. It seems that everyone has a story to tell and many want to share it in book form.

My own bias is that everyone does have a fascinating story to tell (I think every life is interesting and can make a compelling story). BUT, and this is a big BUT, not everyone can tell their story in a way that interests others. 

So, what does make a great memoir? Good question!  Here's my response: Read at least 20 best-selling memoirs, and you'll likely be able to answer that for yourself. If I could summarize the answer quickly, I would.  However, that's not really possible. If you want to write a great memoir, it really helps to read quite a few great ones first. The voice, tone, cadence, length, details and lots of other things in the stories will help you to figure out how to tell your own. That's tip #1--read memoirs if you want to write one.

Tip #2 is a little harder. This has to do with what an editor once said to me. He said, "You need to tell authors that there needs to be a reason why I'd interrupt my really interesting life to read about yours.  And, pay $20 to do it!" Okay, so why would someone pay $20 and interrupt his or her life to read about yours? The answer is: great memoirs transcend any one person's story and resonate with many people.  In short, there has to be more to your story than just your story. What is this book really about? Maybe it's about overcoming tremendous adversity--a theme many of us can relate to. Or, maybe it's about wanderlust or a mid-life crisis or any number of other themes that strike a chord in the hearts of millions. 

Anyway, if you are writing your memoir and you want people to read it, be sure that it is about more than just your story. 

Two tips in one blog is enough, I think. I'll be writing more about what makes a memoir really fantastic, but this these two tips will get you pretty far down the road to writing a great one!

Reader Comments (4)

Any thoughts about a memoir being altered and fictionalized?

Jan 23 | Unregistered Commenteralan n

What about the copyright implications of protecting your ideas and derivatives while you are alive and after you die?
Suppose someone else fictionalizes your life story without your permission?

Alan--check out my next blog for the answer to your question about fictionalizing a memoir. The blog is titled "How Truthful Does Your Memoir Have to Be?"

Hey Arlen, good question! If you are writing fiction, you have to commit in writing that it is a work of fiction. You might have noticed a statement like this in the front essentially every fiction book that is published by a reputable press:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This means that no one can write up your life story as fiction. But, they are certainly free to write a nonfiction account!! As Oprah will tell you, no amount of money can protect you from someone writing an unauthorized biography about your life. Kitty Kelly is famous for this, and is known for digging through trash. No permission necessary for the bio!

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