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Childhood happenings help flesh out memoir

Reichen Lehmkuhl, author, Here's What We'll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy

Q: I'm thinking about writing a memoir. I want to write one even if no one reads it or gets published. Your thoughts?

RL: When I wrote my memoir, I didn't even mean to write it. I was taking acting classes and my coach would tell me that in order to get into the certain moods for a scene that we were rehearsing, draw from tragedies in my life to get in the mood. I started thinking of something tragic that actually happened to me and I would really get emotional. After a few months of acting class, I realized that I had so many built-up dramas in my mind and they were all just sitting there. I felt this urge to write them all down and get them out of my head into a book that I could put up on a shelf, whether it was published or not. I sat down at a computer and I typed every word of my book. I never had a ghostwriter and I don't recommend one. Just sit down and start writing. Try to think of the first memory you ever had. With mine, I was 3 years old and someone asked me how old I was, and I remember seeing three fingers held up in front of me and told someone I was 3. I just kept writing all the memories and all the traumas. I kept going and going. The more I did it, the more I felt better. Then the better my workouts were, the better my relationships became, and it became an addiction. Fifteen minutes a day is all it took. About three-quarters of the way through, I gave it to a book agent. Now I have this book that is a bestseller; we sold 9,000 copies the first week. To tell you the truth, it all came from me just wanting to get it off my chest. I've exposed my parents, the pain they have been through and things that they're not proud of; I exposed everything.

You need to call your family and tell them that you are going to write a memoir and say that you're going to tell them exactly how you felt even if it is not how they think you felt. I've had a very lucky experience because my family said, ''It doesn't matter how we felt; it matters how you felt.'' When my mother finished reading my book, she called me crying and said that as a parent she wished she had my book when I was growing up. Even when Lance [Bass], my boyfriend, read it as a rough draft, he said that this was like a user's manual to me. That is the benefit of a memoir -- write it and give it to your parents and give it to your mate; let it be your user's manual for your life.

Coming Dec. 6: Artist Robert Chambers on imparting creativity to your toddlers.