Tell someone you're reading a "memoir" and most of us will assume the book is about growing up with an addiction, a difficult childhood, a disability or some sort of personal challenge we've worked through. Indeed, memoirs are the genre of choice for those wanting to write about the most memorable moments in their lives.
But what is a memoir? A memoir is a collection of memories, usually around a theme of some sort (coming of age, getting clean and sober, surviving trauma of some sort - the moments or events, both public or private, that happened and impacted the person in a significant way. Memory isn't an exact science, but the events are believed to be factual, altho as recalled by the author.
But memoirs don't necessarily have to be about our personal life. They can be about our business life, our careers, the wisdom and insights we've gained during some aspect of our work life. And the good thing about a memoir is, unlike an autobiography, you can write as many as you want.
Memoir is a specific genre. And, like all genres, it has specific characteristics, primarily being autobiographical without actually being an autobiography, and being factual. Memoirs however, are primarily about one's memory about a particular theme or experience. The word comes from the French mémoire, meaning “memory.” And, memoirs are just that. The author picks a particular theme or event and for however many words remembers, reminisces, and reflects on that event or experience in their life - hopefully in a way that conveys wisdom, insight, lessons learned etc. to the reader. In a business memoir the author those themes may be "loss, love, success, business, failure, leadership, entrepreneurship, challenges faced and won or lost." In his book Shoe Dog, Nike founder Phil Knight recounts all the challenges he faced when founding and growing Nike. If you haven't read it, you should - especially if you're considering writing your own business memoir.
The first memoir I ever read, Paper Lion, captivated me and made memoirs my favorite genre of all time. I was 12 years old at the time. Paper Lion shaped my life and drove me into a career in journalism and writing. Paper Lion is about a journalist, not an athlete - yet in 1960 he arranged to pitch to a lineup of professional baseball players in an All-Star exhibition, then write about the experience in his book Out of My League. Three years later he repeated the exercise, only this time by joining the football training camp of the 1963 Detroit Lions. He wanted to know how the average man off of the street would fare in an attempt to compete with the stars of professional sports. As you can imagine, they wouldn't fare very well.
What Plimpton did with his books wasn't so much about football, or sports, but about the people who played and lived the lives of professional athletes. When I worked security for the Denver Broncos in 1983, the first year John Elway played for them, I got to attend training camp as an observer of sort. Plimpton's writing rushed back into my head. He'd been so accurate about the training camp culture and events it was erie. I became even more obsessed with memoir. I saw it as a way to bypass the "proper" stories that left out the reality of life, and focused on appearances. I loved the raw reality of life and the people who embraced it.
Over the years I got tired of memoirs that dealt mostly with addition, trauma, and crappy childhoods. I longed for another Paper Lion. I moved into autobiographies and soaked them up like a sponge. They were fascinating, but not as enjoyable as memoir. Autobiographies begin and end and travel through a person's life. They're great for getting to know what the person, famous or otherwise, wants you to know about them, but they're rarely as revealing as a good memoir.
Writing the business memoir, in my mind, is writing like George Plimpton - wading into the rawness of failure, challenge, pain, and personality. Another favorite business memoir of mine is Tough Choices, Carly Fiorina's memoir about her time at Hewlett-Packard as a woman, and as an executive who was fired. But let her describe it:
From her Amazon page:
"For five and a half years, Carly Fiorina led Hewlett-Packard through major internal changes, the worst technology slump in decades, and the most controversial merger in high-tech history. Yet just as things were about to turn around, she was abruptly fired, making front-page news around the world.
Fiorina has been the subject of endless debate and speculation. But she has never spoken publicly about crucial details of her time at HP, about the mysterious circumstances of her firing, or about many other aspects of her landmark career. Until now.
In this extraordinarily candid memoir, she reveals the private person behind the public persona. She shares her triumphs and failures, her deepest fears and most painful confrontations. She shows us what it was like to be an ambitious young woman at stodgy old AT&T and then a fast- track executive during the spin-off of Lucent Technologies. Above all, she describes how she drove the transformation of legendary but deeply troubled HP, in the face of fierce opposition.
One of Fiorina's big themes is that in the end business isn't just about numbers; it's about people.This book goes beyond the caricature of the powerful woman executive to show who she really is and what the rest of us male or female, in business or not can learn from the tough choices she made along the way."
That's not hype. It's a very accurate description of what Fiorina writes about. And it's riveting. What Plimpton and Knight, and Fiorina and dozens of others have done is shatter the mirrors that reflect only what the powers that be want us to see. They give us a rare glimpse into "how the sausage is made," as an editor once explained to me. They change lives, perceptions, and insights. They open doors. If you want to make an impact and get people's attention, consider writing a business memoir. You don't have to be a CEO, or famous, or head up a large company. You simply have to share some aspect of your business wisdom or challenges. If you want to know MORE, download the free PDF here.
And, of course if you're interested in writing a business memoir, or any memoir, set up a free, no obligation 30-minute call to contact me with questions.
SHOULD YOU WRITE A BUSINESS MEMOIR?
Why shouldn't you write a business memoir? If you long to be a mentor, but don't have the time, a business memoir is a great way to pass along your experience, insights, failures, challenges, and wisdom. Too many entrepreneurs and small business owners don't see a need for a memoir - claiming they have nothing to say. But they do. We all have stories. We all want to be remembered. Most of us want to see others succeed - in part from wisdom we've shared with them. If you're still not sure, download the free PDF here. You don't even have to give me an email address or contact information. Just download it.
If you think you'd like to plunge right in and learn more about memoir, there's a three day workshop coming up in the Catskill Mountains Sept. 22-24 at The Spruceton Inn. Screenwriter and best selling author Stephen H Foreman will be leading the workshop. He keeps his classes small - only 10 people may attend and it's half full already. Watch the slideshow below to see more about the Spruceton Inn.
The workshop runs from 22 September to 24 of September. The $550 cost covers your room for two nights, catered lunch each day, tuition for the workshop and one-on-one time with Stephen.
Consistency Matters More Than Talent
You don't have to be talented to succeed. You do need to be consistent.