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Why Your Personal History Is Terrible and How to Fix It

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Have you ever read someone's personal history, and it sounded more like a textbook than an enjoyable memoir? This family history story is boring because the writer neglected to dive deeper into their memories to tell their story.

Good Memoirs Reveal Past Thoughts

When you write your story, be sure to include your past thoughts to help your readers understand your decisions. It makes for a more powerful story and shares details that no genealogical record will ever have.

When I wrote From Metal to Rhinestones: A Quest for the Crown, I started relating the factual account of my participation in various competitions such as what I wore, what I said, how I looked, and how I placed in the end.

These details fit nicely in my scrapbook-retelling of my experiences. By their very nature, scrapbooks are heavy on photos and light on writing.

However, a memoir needs to connect your reader with their five senses that can not be revealed in photos and news reports. We need to transport them through time and place them in my mind each time I competed or prepared for such an event.

Perhaps you're writing a memoir about overcoming a tragedy, working as a high school English teacher, or serving in the church. You have to include your thoughts and feelings. You want your family to feel as you felt and think as you thought.

A Memoir Must Answer These Basic Questions

Compelling personal histories must add emotion and thought processes to the story. It's actually straightforward to do. To write a page-turning memoir, answer the following questions:

  • What was I thinking when __________?

  • How did I feel about __________?

  • Why did I want to ____________?

  • When did I start believing ____________?

  • Who made me feel ______________?

  • Where did when I ____________?

You should write the first draft, as I did, that covers the basic timeline of your tale. Then review each event and answer these questions no matter what topics you're writing about.

Using the following questions, I added answers to the following questions that described the pageant life on-stage.

  1. What was I thinking when I made my clothing selections?

  2. Why did I feel my trainers were good or not worth their expense?

  3. How did I feel as I strutted on stage in my gowns and stood next to the other delegates?

  4. When did I feel the audience supported me or wanted me off the stage?

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Memoirs Should Provide Insight Into the Full Picture

Another flaw in many personal histories involves failing to add the entire context to a story. If a cancer recovery memoir only talked about the doctor's visits and treatments without including family and work dynamics, your reader can't relate to all the stress and worries along the journey.

While writing my pageant year's memoir, I couldn't focus only on the pageant preparation and competitions. If I stopped there, I would have shared only half the story. I also needed to include details about life off-stage.

  1. What were my biggest worries as a teenager in high school?

  2. Did I feel stressed or overwhelmed trying to balance my pageant schedule with the demands of advanced academic work and playing in the band?

  3. Why did I avoid telling my friends about my pageant competitions?

  4. Why did I invite a cute guy on the drumline to come to my pageant but no one else?

Can you begin to see how such details might play a role in how my pageant experiences went?

Can you begin to see how adding the most trivial of thoughts enhance your stories?

I shared more details about what to add to your memoir in this video.

VIDEO: How to write about emotions into a personal history

Watch this video on YouTube.

It's Okay To Be Vulnerable In Your Memoir

Are you worried that your thoughts and feelings may appear naive, juvenile, or incorrect? What happens if your thoughts at the time lacked an accurate perspective?


I'm so glad you weren't perfect.

I'll bet your readers will be pleased as well.

Consider that we are not the narrator in a novel who sees everyone accurately. We are the leading character who does not know every viewpoint, and sometimes we are wrong.

Don't you love how the main character in a novel misreads a situation and then must resolve it?

Your memoir will benefit from you including your false and ignorant thoughts. Be vulnerable, no matter how scary.

By so doing, you will reveal why you reacted the way you did. You will write an understanding of who you are now because of what you thought and felt then.

An Example of My Potentially Inaccurate Views in the Past

Rightly or wrongly, one of my pageant competitions was greatly impacted by how I perceived an adult.

After winning a local pageant in Texas and advancing to the state competition with a fancy title, I felt slighted by my pageant director. I believe she wanted any other girl, but me, to win her pageant. Honestly, I had competed in this pageant to practice for the state-level event and hadn't expected to win.

In this system, you could compete at the state level, even if you did not win or compete in a preliminary event. Many local directors took their winners and many finalists to the state event.

A local director should give their best efforts to their winners, as part of their prize package. The other delegates receive support, but not to the same degree.

And yet, during the state finals, I felt I was a finalist, not the winner in the eyes of my local director.

  • Was I wrong?

  • Did I misinterpret the situation?

  • Am I slandering or disparaging the director?

All of these valid questions should be left for the reader to decide. I need to write what I felt and why I thought these things.

Otherwise, when I depict the soul-crushing scene of not placing in the top 16 and the hour I spent backstage in a storage closet, balling my eyes out won't make sense. Add to that, the scene when my director told me in front of many witnesses, after the crowning of someone else, that my crying was unacceptable rather than, "I'm so proud of you. You did your very best."

Had I not included my thoughts about the director during the state event, you wouldn't understand the utter defeat I felt during our final encounter.

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Write What You Were Thinking Into Your Memoirs

Have I convinced you that you can write your thoughts into your personal history? When writing your story, your thoughts create a more powerful connection that your readers will crave and that no genealogical record will ever share.

Continue Learning about Personal History

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