How to start a political memoir, with examples from bestsellers.
Not sure how to start a political memoir? There are many possibilities, for you can begin by highlighting either yourself or the “politics part,” the campaign, issue, office, or other piece of politics you wish to write about.
The five examples below illustrate interesting ways to start a political memoir: with an “after the election” crisis, a terrible fright while in office, a moment of peace on the campaign trail, an experience that changes the way you think, and the moment of leaving office.
1. Start a political memoir at a moment when all seems lost
Hillary Rodham Clinton, What Happened (2017) – a New York Times notable book
Deep breath. Feel the air filling my lungs. This is the right thing to do. The country needs to see that our democracy still works, no matter how painful this is. Breathe out. Scream later.
I’m standing just inside the door at the top of the steps leading down to the inaugural platform, waiting for the announcer to call Bill and me to our seats. I’m imagining that I’m anywhere but here. Bali maybe? Bali would be good.
It’s traditional for Bill and me, as a former President and First Lady, to attend the swearing-in of the new President. I had struggled for weeks with whether or not to go. John Lewis wasn’t going. The civil rights hero and Congressman said that the President Elect was not legitimate because of the mounting evidence of Russian interference in the election. Other members of Congress were joining him and boycotting a President Elect they saw as divisive. A lot my supporters and close friends urged me to stay home, too.
2. Start a political memoir at a time of great crisis
Dick Cheney, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir (2011)
Special Agent Jimmy Scott burst through the door. ‘Mr. Vice President, we’ve got to leave now.’ Before I could reply he moved behind my desk, put one hand on my belt and another on my shoulder, and propelled me out of my office. He rushed me through narrow West Wing hallways and down a stairway toward the PEOC, the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, located underneath the White House.
We stopped at the bottom of the stairs in a tunnel outside the PEOC. I watched as Secret Service agents positioned themselves at the top, middle, and bottom of the staircase, creating layers of defense in case the White House itself should be targeted. Agent Scott handed out additional firearms, flashlights, and gas masks. He’d evacuated me from my office, he said, because he’d gotten word over the radio that an inbound, unidentified aircraft was headed for “Crown,” codename for the White House.
3. Start a political memoir away from it all
Katy Tur, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Set to the Craziest Campaign in American History (2017) – a New York Times bestseller
I’m up with the sun, in a studio apartment that’s tiny even by New York standards. I think it is charming. The bed is in a loft, connected to the living area by a black iron spiral staircase. I climb down and tiptoe to the kitchen. In America, I’d make a giant cup of coffee, but I’m in Paris, where ‘filter coffee,’ as the Europeans call it, would be a sin and a spell breaker. I pop a little espresso pod into a sleek French machine.
I sip my espresso and stare down into the courtyard through a giant wall of windows, each panel of glass the size of a dining room table. The neighbors are chattering over breakfast. This isn’t the Paris of tourists. I see gray tile roofs and smokestacks, not the Eiffel Tower. This is the real Paris, and I am an American cliché.
An NBC News correspondent dispatched overseas, I’m based in London but in love with a handsome Frenchman who is still sleeping up in that loft.
4. Start a political memoir with a realization
Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2003) – a national bestseller
In the fall of 1961 it didn’t take very long to discover in Vietnam that we weren’t likely to be successful there. It took me less than a week, on my first visit. With the right access, talking to the right people, you could get the picture pretty quickly. You didn’t have to speak Vietnamese, or know Asian history or philosophy or culture, to learn that nothing we were trying to do was working or was likely to get better. I read somewhere you don’t have to be an ichthyologist to know when a fish stinks.
It helped that I was part of a high-level Pentagon task force, visiting the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Vietnam with a ‘go anywhere, see anything’ kind of clearance.
5. Start a political memoir as your time in office is coming to an end
Madeleine Albright, Madam Secretary: A Memoir (2013) – a New York Times bestseller
I didn’t want it to end.
Hoping to freeze time, I thought back to the phone ringing one December morning and the words, ‘I want you to be my Secretary of State,’ and to the swearing-in ceremony where my eagle pin came unstuck. I thought of little girls seeking autographs on a triumphant train trip from Washington to the United Nations in New York; of Vaclav Havel’s face, warm and wise, as he placed a red sash on my shoulder and a kiss on my cheek; and of names enshrined on the wall of a synagogue in Prague. I thought of buildings in Kenya and Tanzania reduced to rubble; of coffins draped with the American flag; and of President Clinton in a rumpled shirt, with glasses perched on his nose, pleading the cause of Middle East peace.
There is no “right” way to start a political memoir
Selecting just the right moment to start a political memoir is, like politics, a mixture of experience and guesswork.
For more on how to begin a memoir in general, see our “How to Start a Memoir.”
You can also see examples of how specific types of memoirs are started in these blogs:
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