It’s the most dreaded interview question of all time: Tell me about yourself. At best, your answer sounds like a parroted version of “What I Did On My Winter Vacation”; at worst, you remind your new boss of their Uncle Vernon at Thanksgiving dinner, endlessly championing his own achievements. But what if you really do have a story to tell? How do you convey it with wit and style—and a minimum of blowhardiness?
- Watch Your Tone. Writing an entire book about yourself takes a certain kind of confidence. This means that while you should avoid sounding like a know-it-all, you must also write with conviction, a belief in the validity of your story. Choose a tone that supports your story, whether it’s funny or serious. Above all, write in your own voice. A memoir that lacks authenticity will also lack an audience.
- A Rose By Any Other Name. Unless you are a mountain hermit, there have been other people in your life, and these people will be in your memoir. These people may also object to being in your memoir, and this is where it gets tricky. Telling your truth is a constitutional right, but that has never stopped a former colleague from suing for libel. Strongly consider changing names to protect the guilty (and yourself), and have a sit-down with your lawyer, if not the people in your life, before you go public with your shocking tell-all.
- Creative Editing. Hunt for the stories in your life. You may think your college years didn’t follow a narrative line, but here’s a little secret: Everything is a story. You just have to find the right angle. Once you start thinking like a novel, patterns will begin to emerge. Often, how you plan to tell the story affects the story itself, whether it’s a series of journal entries like David Sedaris’s Theft By Finding, or a year in the life, like A.J. Jacobs’s books. Don’t be afraid to condense events to get to the action—dull exposition is as deadly in creative non-fiction as it is in novels.Remember, the “hero’s journey”still applies to memoir—if the character of you hasn’t changed and grown along the way, your readers will be wondering why they spent so much time with you. Ultimately, a memoir is an offering of yourself to the world—your wisdom, your laughter, your life. Tell your story with truth and candor and we will listen with open hearts.