Motivational and inspirational writer, Bryan Hutchinson is the author of several books about life with ADHD including the highly acclaimed, best selling "One Boy′s Struggle: A Memoir" and the author of the hilarious eBook that went viral "10 Things I Hate about ADHD"

10 Simple Tips on Writing a Memoir

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The reception of my memoir One Boy’s Struggle by people with ADHD and without ADHD alike, and professionals, has been phenomenal.

As most anyone knows, who has been reading my blog, you know I did not originally intend to publish. It all started as a therapeutic effort on my part to get my thoughts and experiences out of my head and on paper, something I could read back to myself and make sense of it all. Well, while I was making sense of my life I started to include all the things I believed would have helped me had it been known that I had ADD (ADHD), and while I did that, it was then that I decided, or rather, it came to me that I needed to share my life with you. It was not an easy decision, but I know it was the right decision. 

In the last year or so, many people have written me asking for advice on writing their story. They ask me about the steps I took etc. However, I cannot answer those questions in the way some expected. The reality is that I just wrote and I wrote and I wrote some more. I didn’t follow any procedure or have any preconceived ideas that I was writing a book.

So my advice to anyone who would like to ask that type of question of me, here are my answers:

  1. Just write, take notes in the margins and keep writing.
  2. Be honest, as honest as possible, even when you reveal something scary, embarrassing or something that makes you feel ashamed, keep writing, no, don’t stop.
  3. Be relentless and let yourself be remarkable. What I mean by this is what I just wrote in #2, be honest with yourself enough to dig deeper into your own emotions. If the situation makes you cry, then let the tears fall on the keyboard, but whatever you do don’t stop writing to wipe them away. Keep going and you will share those feelings beyond any expectations. I cried a lot while writing One Boy’s Struggle, especially any time I got into the details about me and my father, because, above all things, no matter what, my love for my father is incredibly painful for me. He was a good man with a very confusing child. Yes, he was a good man and I do love him dearly, but I didn’t take away from the reality I lived through. So again, be honest about your experiences. The hurt is real, I know, but that’s the only way to release.
  4. Write from your heart because that is where the story is. That’s what I truly believe. I sincerely believed had I started writing to share and publish my memoirs as a book I would have never gotten past the first few pages. So that’s my next tip:
  5. Don’t think about being published or sharing your story. There’s too much to think about when you write from that perspective, unless you are an established professional writer, which by the way, I am clearly not. Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight, had never considered being a writer before she wrote her first book. The story came to her in a dream and she felt compelled to write and that’s what she did, with no formula – you know where that got her.
  6. Be sure to keep a notebook in every room of your home and in your car. But, pull over if you start to write in your car!
  7. Stay grounded and always, above all else, write for yourself as you feel it, as you want to express it, do not consider whether it makes sense to anyone else or not. There’s always time to go back and make it clearer for others, if necessary.
  8. When I first started writing my memoirs I had some difficulty remembering things I had not thought about in years, but if this happens to you just write what you can remember and you will be surprised how memories start to surface. You may soon be going to bed remembering days gone by and the people you met and left along the way. That can be a very good thing, but honestly, it can also be somewhat painful, especially when some of your mistakes become clearer (we all make mistakes!), the things you said you wouldn’t want anyone to say to anyone today. As I said before, when the tears come, keep on writing. Don’t worry, I am sure you will also find nuggets of joy and happiness too, things you did do right that you didn’t give yourself credit for or, things that seemed to be wrong, but had it not happened something else would have been missed later. Life is like that, just write it down and sort it out later. 
  9. Interviews: It’s up to you if you want to interview people from your past or just play it by memory. If you decide to do any interviews just remember that no one’s memory of you is going to be perfect. Some folks might not even remember things that you remember, because their focus was elsewhere or they have long since forgotten. People in general pay the most attention to themselves and how situations and events affect them. That’s absolutely normal, we love to think we are the center of attention, but in reality each person is their very own center of the universe, most especially in the formative years.
  10. Each person is different; my approach to writing about my life is from an emotionally expressive angle.  Your way may be different, it might be more analytical, and that’s okay, your way is the right way for you. This list is what works for me and since the questions have been asked of me time and again, I thought it would be helpful to some for me to share them.

That’s what I’ve got in the way of tips for writing your memoirs. I think if you’re writing a memoir, something so personal, it is nearly impossible to follow any specific type of step by step program without it becoming somewhat mechanical. Sometimes, it is best to just let it flow, to let it pour out of you, revealing those emotions which allow readers to connect with you and what you may have gone through.

Here’s an example of what I mean, and I don’t know if this is a fair example: I read Michael Phelps memoir No Limits and enjoyed it to a degree, but I felt absolutely no emotional connection to it, positive, negative, in-between or at all. That’s not to say it is not a good memoir (it is a very good book), only that it is not one I could relate to on any level – if I had felt something perhaps then I would have found something to relate to. When there is a lack of emotion and a memoir is so organized, it becomes more like an historical archive. At least, that’s what I felt, or better said, didn’t feel. I hope that doesn’t come across the wrong way.(?)

In all due fairness to Mr. Phelps, he did not fully write his memoir, it was co-authored by Alan Abrahamson and the type of book they wrote was most likely their intention. Still, I did enjoy No Limits and it was a worthy read for me. That’s important to understand too, if you start out with the intention to write something in a specific way, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just going to be different than what it would be if you write a memoir without specific intentions. That may seem like a no brainer, but hey, let me put it out there again just in case.

If you have written a memoir, please feel free to share your tips on writing too.

~Bryan

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