Writing a Memoir

write memoir 1Most peoples’  lives are uninteresting, and yet memoirs often become bestsellers. How does this happen when so many of our daily lives revolve around the same daily tasks? What makes one person’s life more interesting than the next? What creates this excitement in the book industry?  It simply lies in the details and how a story is told.

Many people confuse autobiographies with memoirs; however, there is a slight difference. In an autobiographical story, the focus is on the “life and times” of a writer. In a memoir, a particular time in the “life of” is the focus. It is based on a particular time using memories, feelings and emotions to tell the story.

When compiling a memoir, the first task is to determine the plot. A collection of memories needs a common thread that pulls everything together otherwise the tone will be filled with a series of disconnected events. If there is no common thread, the reader will be left to wonder, “What is the point? What makes these events significant?” The writer needs to have a goal in mind as to what they want to achieve. What is it that they want the reader to take away with them from having read the story?  Will it be a lesson that is learned, or a feeling of victory over seemingly insurmountable odds? It is all these decisions that have to be made before a writer begins their story.

Once the central point of the story is decided, the author then needs to decide which events will be included in the story that relate to the plot in some way. For example, if the memoir is a collection of wild romances and affairs, a trip to the dentist to get a root canal should not be included unless it somehow relates to the romances.

As the author progresses through his or her memories and logs down pertinent information, it will become more clear which events to include, and which to omit. Reworking the stories should be expected and the author should be prepared to write, read objectively, and then rewrite several times as the book progresses.

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A memoir should conjure emotions in the reader, whether the emotions are happy or sad. Frank McCourt once said writing a memoir is like preparing to go to confession because so much of the conscience is examined. It can be painful to dredge up old memories, but it can also be therapeutic, and if the memoir does not contain honesty, it will not be effective. On the other hand, the memoir should not be the writer’s personal therapy session. This is not what a reader what’s to read. Publishers want well-written stories that convey a universal feeling and deliver a glimpse into a unique life story. It is to this standard that authors should write.

Once the basics of the memoir have been chosen, the author will need to give the narrator a voice. How does the narrator speak? Is the tone funny? Is the tone angry and bitter? Is it casual, like one friend speaking to another? The narrator’s voice may not be immediately clear. It may take a few pages, or even a couple of chapters to find the voice. The author may need to return to the earliest pages and rework them to reflect the tone he or she is trying to convey.

Writing a memoir is about exploring your own personal history and putting it down on paper. It is also evoking emotions in your audience as they read your material and allowing the reader to connect those experiences with others. Just like anything else, completing a memoir is a lot of work, but seeing the finished product in print may be an inspiration to get you started. As any project, there is a method to the madness of getting this done. Listed below are some general guidelines to begin your memoir project.


Begin by listing those prominent moments of your life. As you write down those events or moments, include how they made you feel. Did they make you feel sad, happy, depressed, or excited? Also list some of the worst places you endured or best places that you loved. Add to the list by listing hobbies and friends. Were your friends true or just “ok” friends? How did those friends make you feel? Continue to ask questions that will bring out the true emotions of those particular events and acquaintances in your life.


Once you have created your list, begin by drawing a map of where you lived, or where the events that will be included in your memoir took place. Then jot down some major events that may be covered in your memoir in each of the areas on the map. Add timelines and dates for reference as you begin to write.

Events using Sensor Descriptions

Use as much sensory-placed descriptions to capture the events in your memoir timeline. This will help to trigger emotions and possibly even produce other events that may have been forgotten as you begin to write your information down.

Revise and Review

As any writer knows, there will be several drafts before a memoir is totally complete. As you revise, look for consistency in voice, check to ensure that the tone is continual throughout the book, look for correct word tense in the document, check for any areas where there may be confusion for the reader, review to ensure that the conflict is strategically placed, check for accurate descriptions, and make sure that resolution of the story is included at the end of the memoir.


If possible, ensure that you seek appropriate feedback by people that may have experienced the same events. Get feedback from those that are not as closely tied to the events so that you can get opinions with an objective perspective. Once you’ve received feedback, incorporate suggested changes, if applicable. Make sure that they coincide with the rest of your overall message.

Grammar and Punctuation

Lastly, it’s important that your memoir be reviewed for correct grammar and punctuation. An editor or agent will not want to look at sloppy material and it’s important to have your manuscript as polished as possible. An editor may reject a manuscript if grammar and punctuation is not correct.


Whether you self publish, decide to go the route of selling your manuscript to a traditional publishing house, or have it printed and bound solely for family members’ personal enjoyment, this is a decision that you alone will make. Give this some thought as each has its advantages. Click to read more on publishing. Whichever direction you choose, a memoir can be an engaging and worthwhile project.

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