The world is awash in self-help books on nearly any topic you can imagine, and more books and eBooks emerge every day. The most powerful and convincing are self-help memoir, a blended genre that has not been formally defined. If you have the urge to teach people to do something you have done, the form is worth exploring.
Credible self-help books always include plenty of anecdotal evidence. The evidence may come from the authors’ lives or from other people they have helped. This evidence supports the validity of the material and creates a bond of trust between the reader and the author/expert. The evidence often takes the form of short anecdotes or case studies carved out of lives like a row of chicken livers displayed in a science project.
Inspirational memoirs recount how an individual overcame tough times or major challenges and lived to tell about it. These carefully crafted stories of strength, tenacity, resourcefulness, and other commendable traits are full of plot, conflict, tension, and character development. They have huge emotional appeal, leaving readers with the desire to overcome their own challenges, to be greater, better. To liberate their own greatness. But they are left to their own devices as they strive to do so. Purely inspirational memoirists refrain from offering formulas and guidelines.
Self-help memoir combine the best of both self-help books and inspirational memoir. The authors write gripping tales of experiences overcoming mighty challenges, then go on to explain how you can use their lessons to create the same results for yourself.
Two powerful examples:
LIBERATING GREATNESS by Hal Williamson and Sharon Eakes. Hal Williamson was diagnosed by experts as being seriously retarded during his early school years. While listening to the sermon in church near the end of junior high school, he heard a single thought that fell on fertile ground. He realized nobody had ever suggested he study harder. He decided to try. Hal retired as the lead patent attorney for a major corporation, his second such position. His life before and after that point has more twists, turns, ups and downs than the Screaming Thunderbolt roller coaster. The book is worth reading simply for his tension-filled page-turner of a story. But there is much more. Later in his life he discovered scientific explanations explaining his remarkable turn-around, and he developed a way of teaching others to use the techniques he had intuitively discovered. The book includes a step-by-step account of his process and its neuroscience underpinnings. Thousands have followed his example and attest to the success of the formula.
EVERYTHING MATTERS NOTHING MATTERS, by Gina Mazza Hillier. Gina begins her book about spiritual growth by urging readers to throw out all their self-help books — including her volume — and get on with the business of finding their personal path. Then she lays out seven steps readers can follow to live serenely in the midst of chaos. The steps are solid and well-advised. Nothing in her process is unique, but she does an outstanding job of presenting it in a fresh package, and the examples of her reported experiences as she developed her spiritual powers are edgy and thrilling. The book is not cataloged as memoir, but in the sense that it explores events from her life and what they meant to her, it qualifies as such. It includes a plot, plenty of tension, character development — all the elements of a great story are there, along with a clearly marked path for readers to follow.
If you follow Hal and Gina’s example, master the art of telling a fine story of your life experience, and combine that with specific instructions on how others can do the same thing, you’ll have a treasured resource that people will turn and return to.