Why You Should Conduct Interviews for Your Memoir 3

WRITING MEMOIR CAN BE A LONELY ENDEAVOR. Day after day, for months — maybe years — you dig through your memories for details of events that fit into the theme of your story. You search through photo albums, personal journal entries (if you’re lucky to have them), google newspaper archives, and bring up satellite images of the home you grew up in. But, mostly, your version of events is limited to the quirks of your own memory.

Interviewing other people who were involved, or experts in a related field, can add incredible depth to your memoir.

Interviews don’t have to be formal, sit-down events. They can be as simple as reminiscing with your brother. “Hey Joe, do you remember that time when we were kids and we ran away together?” And then, once your brother (or friend or other relative) is engaged, ask a simple open-ended question: “What do you remember about that day?”

You can learn a lot by listening to others’ perceptions of an event. If their version doesn’t agree with yours, that doesn’t mean yours is wrong. Varied perceptions are normal. If there’s a big difference in how you and your interviewee remember events, that difference can provide food for thought and reflection. Why DID you remember it the way you did, and how has your memory of the way it happened influenced your worldview and subsequent decision-making?

[bctt tweet=”Interviewing people who were present during an event can add incredible depth to your memoir.” username=”writingthrulife”]

Take notes and, if possible, record the conversation. (You’ll need to let the person know you’re recording and why. And don’t worry — most people forget about the recording once they start talking.)

Follow up with additional questions to tease out more details. “Do you remember what Mom said when we got back?” Or, “I was eight and you were ten, right?” Follow-up questions can provide confirmation for your own memories as well as valuable details you may be able to include in your scenes.

If the theme of your memoir would benefit from an expert’s view — for example, your story is about child abuse or a family member’s addiction — in addition to researching statistics in these fields, interview a family therapist or other expert who could give you a personal view of the issue and deepen your understanding of how it affected you.

How to start interviewing

  1. Make a short list of people who were present during the events you’re writing about and/or relevant experts.
  2. Select the person who feels easiest to approach.
  3. Write down from 2-10 questions you’d like ask. Open-ended questions (those that don’t ask for a yes or no answer) are best.
  4. Contact the individual you want to interview (an email is easy) and try to set up an interview in person or over the phone. While you can conduct an interview via email, you’ll get more out of a personal interview.
  5. Take notes even if you are recording. That way, you can record your first impressions and reactions, as well as highlight important information and additional questions that occur to you.
  6. While interviewing, avoid talking about your version of the story. It’s tempting to share stories, but it’s also disappointing to walk away from an interview realizing that you spent the entire time talking about yourself!
  7. After the interview, while it’s fresh in your mind, review your notes and write about what you learned. Include as many details as possible.

So . . . who are you going to interview first?


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3 thoughts on “Why You Should Conduct Interviews for Your Memoir

  • Patsy Ann Taylor

    When my mother passed away, I realized what an opportunity I had missed. I knew so little about her childhood and young adult years. My father visited us often and loved to talk. So I would ask him questions about Mother and her family. He was delighted to answer and at one point did an audio tape for the family. This is one of my treasures: to hear my father’s voice talking about his and Mother’s life and family.