Getting to the Heart of your Life Story

Getting to the Heart of your Life Story

It’s great when ghostwriting clients can find memoir themes that reach beyond their own lives and have something to say to the community at large. This is where you get to ask: What has my life been about? What have I learned?

What are some great memoir themes?

Finding memoir themes is oftentimes the most rewarding part of writing a memoir. People often think their lives are “just a collection of funny stories,” but before the end of the ghostwriting process, they realize their stories amount to a larger statement.

Memoir themes for my ghostwriting clients have included:

  • Don’t worry about being different
  • Business thrives on the mentoring of youth
  • When opportunity knocks, don’t be afraid to answer
  • True love is a matter of destiny
  • Follow your intuition
  • Risk everything to fulfill your destiny

The long, eventful life stories that support these memoir themes make the ghostwritten memoirs fascinating reads with really diverse messages. It’s great when readers come away with both the feeling that they’ve just read a fascinating page-turner and the sense that they’ve learned something.

How to determine the theme of your memoir

The way I work, as a memoir ghostwriter, is to collect a client’s life story first, through the interview process, then to discuss the book’s potential content with the client. Once you’ve told me your whole life story, you may realize that we have to choose which part of your life will make the best book. This process is called “writing the synopsis.”

A synopsis is a document that tells you exactly which events of your life will be in the book. (Here’s a blog about how I work with clients to write synopses) It shows you the arc of the story, demonstrates where the suspense builds, and describes where you undergo the pivotal transformative moments of your life.

Typically I’ll first write a general synopsis, a few pages long, to make sure we’re on the same page with the story idea. If a client likes it, I’ll elaborate, adding in details and more life events, so that the final synopsis gives you a very clear idea of what to expect in the book. That way, when I start ghostwriting the chapters of the book, I’ll give clients exactly what they expect in terms of both their memoir themes and stories.

Setting a memoir theme can be very therapeutic

Sometimes, reading the memoir synopsis makes clients realize their original theme wasn’t exactly what they wanted to say. If so, we’ll talk about the meaning of the memoir until we get down to what you really feel your life has been all about.

For instance, I once ghostwrote a memoir synopsis for a client where the theme started out as, “the simple joys of small town living,” and ended up being, “mentoring youth is what being in business is all about.” (Here’s a link to more about that ghostwritten memoir) Another ghostwritten book started out with the memoir theme, “always keep your sense of humor in a stressful situation,” and ended up being, “follow your intuition.”

The process by which clients figure out the themes of their life stories is simply a matter of having me write a synopsis, then they edit the synopsis. We discuss the edits, then I write a new synopsis that shows the client’s life events gradually ramping up toward the theme’s profound meaning. Sometimes this process only takes one go-round, but often it takes four or five rewrites as clients define and redefine their memoir themes. (Here’s a link to more about the writing process)

I don’t mind the rewrites, because the closer we get the synopsis to the true message of your memoirs, the more profound your memoirs will ultimately be. Clients have commented that it’s very therapeutic to go through this synopsis-writing process. For me, it’s fascinating to see clients hone down the message of their lives.

Even simple memoir themes can be profound

As we do this, I always remind clients that your message doesn’t have to be something so uber-profound that nobody has ever said it before. It just has to be organic to your unique life story.

In fact, sometimes the simplest messages are the most profound. Memoir themes hit readers hardest when they see how pivotal events in your life made you realize something new, become a changed person, or orient your life toward a new philosophy.

After all, if you could make big changes in your life, readers realize they can, too. They can fulfill their dreams just as you did, and that’s inspiring. Ultimately, memoir themes inspire readers, and isn’t that desire to inspire what all memoir writers have in common?

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Ruby Peru