How to Write a Memoir

Three Methods:Brainstorming Your AngleCreating Your MasterpiecePolishing Your Work

A memoir is a way to touch at the heart of emotion and allow it to be shared with others. If they are not written down, the intimate details may soon be forgotten. The memoir validates your experience and gives meaning to your life; after all, your memories are a treasured journey for others to learn from and enjoy. It can be a gift to your children, your parents, your friends, your country, and the world. Only you can tell the story that you've been given, and other people's lives will be enriched for it.

Method 1
Brainstorming Your Angle

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    Start narrowing it down. A good memoir isn't a life story; it's a peek into a time in your life when you had genuine feeling, a genuine experience. Try to keep your memoir to a narrow focus on one time period or aspect in your life, ultimately drilling home a larger message. If written well, this one topic or time you went through will become universal and all audiences will be able to relate.[1] Start thinking of writable material.
    • What's something you can't deny?
    • What or who did you leave behind?
    • What's something you did that you no longer understand?
    • What are you sorry you never did?
    • What physical characteristic are you proud to pass on?
    • When did you unexpectedly feel compassion?
    • What do you have too much of?
    • When did you know you were in trouble?[2]
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    Pull out old pictures, diaries, and objects of nostalgia. They will bring to mind the experiences you could write about. If possible, go to the scene and relive the events in your mind.
    • Just because you can't remember it off-hand doesn't mean you shouldn't write about it. Memoirs are all about self-exploration and there's more to you than just you, after all. You are the places you go, the people you love, and the things you have, too.
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    Allow your emotions to flow. This is one moment when your mind should be playing second fiddle to your heart. And if the emotions are scary, nonsensical, painful, or downright terrifying, all the better. Bringing these to the surface will help you stay in the moment and write with passion, purpose, and clarity.[3]
    • If a train of thought gets close to a nerve, don't close the doors and draw the curtains. If you stop, your writing will go flat and you'll end up dancing around subjects. Take your mind to a place it may not want to go. Hiding behind those first thoughts may be something worth knowing, worth writing about.
    • Listen to music that can metaphorically take you back in time or noticeably changes your mood. Anything that stirs your emotions and allows your mind to be absorbed back into that moment can shed light on the past.
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    Give therapy a shot. This not only gives you one or two hours a week to get mindfully organized, but it allows your writing to be organic and creative and not the therapy itself. A memoir is not to find closure, it's to be shared with others, to expose a bit of yourself.
    • It's totally normal to feel like you're going crazy. Digging around your old emotions will surely bring them to life and make them feel real. All you have to do, then, is write them down on paper and soak in the catharsis. You may even find that the story is writing itself and the conclusion you never even saw coming is looming right in front of you.

Method 2
Creating Your Masterpiece

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    Be honest. Very few people grew up the son or daughter of a great doctor and spent their formative years in Africa curing blind tigers. If your life seems boring on paper, consider that "challenge extended." You are not any more boring than the next 100 people you meet on the street; you're just not looking in the right places. However daunting this may seem, don't lie. Your readers deserve better. And so do you, quite frankly.[1]
    • When we recall things, we often recall how we felt when we recalled the memory than how we felt when the memory actually went down. Make sense? So don't necessarily trust your memory -- ask others about the outplay of events. You'll want as unbiased a view as possible -- after all, you have the power of the pen; don't abuse it.
    • It is always satisfying to read a writer who sharply and deftly attacks the hypocrisies and delusions of the world around him, but we trust that writer more completely when he also attacks himself, when he does not hold himself to a different standard, or protect himself from scrutiny.[4] Be honest about the outplay of events, but also take an honest look at yourself.
    • If the reader senses the writer is lying even to himself, or using the essay as a piece of propaganda, a forwarding of his own personal mythology in too clumsy or transparent a way, she will react against it.[4] As long as it feels honest, you're good to go.
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    Have an A and Z. That is, have a straight up, no fuss, no muss, beginning and end before you start writing your story. If your twin sister stole your Judy Jetson thermos on March 14th, 1989 and you finally visited her children in September of 2010, there it is. There's your story. Now you just have to fill in the gaps.
    • Remember: The story is all yours. Whatever happened can be as insane or as mundane as you see fit; if you write it compellingly, your readers will care (in a good way) either way.
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    Validate the facts. After all, a memoir is based on truth. Dates, times, names, people, sequences of events, even the tiniest of details are important. The last thing you want is for something to come to light proving you fudged the truth. You may want to change names of people or places to avoid the mess, but put a disclaimer at the beginning if you do so.
    • Validate what can be validated and imagine what can only be imagined. It's at this time that you get to reinvent who you are. The state you're in at the time of recall will affect the memory to the point where when you go to recall it again, it will have been adjusted. So take the gray area that is your brain and run with it. Your mind exists outside of time.

Method 3
Polishing Your Work

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    Review your work. Has it said what you ventured out to say? Is anything left out? Are questions raised and not answered? Is your wording clear? Does it move you?
    • A good memoir is entertaining. It doesn't necessarily have to be funny, but it should be deliberately something. What is the reader getting from it? Why would they drop their own worries and start caring about yours?
    • In addition to checking for content errors, check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. Your computer will not catch everything. If you have a close friend or family member that is particularly good at this, ask them for assistance.
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    Make deletions. Not everything you write will be gold. After you've taken a break, start back at the beginning, dissecting and removing. Weed out what's unnecessary and repetitive.
    • Not every instance of your existence is worth noting. If an event isn't part of a flowing transition into another, it doesn't have to make it to the page. Include only what gets you to your end point without meandering from your path.
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    Let a small group read your work. After you have revised as much as you can, give your memoir to some trusted friends for feedback. You may see a pattern in their comments, and that's a good indication of what needs further revision. Don't be shy and seek a professional editor if needed.
    • If they're in it (or not in it), be careful. Don't hurt anyone's feelings by putting them in a negative light (or not putting them in one at all) and then forcing them to read it. You'll only get a negative reaction.
    • Constructive criticism is vital to your work. Sometimes you may not see things that others will point out, and it may help you improve your work.


  • A good memoir is rich in color--metaphors, similes, descriptions, dialogue, and feelings will make your memoir come alive.
  • A memoir is different from an autobiography because it takes a "snapshot" of certain events in a person's life. A memoir tends to read more like a novel. Usually a memoir is written in more colorful language than an autobiography and only relevant information is included--not everything about a person's life should be shared.
  • Be kind to yourself. Writing a memoir is a very personal, gut-wrenching journey.
  • A memoir should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There should be a problem, a conflict, and a resolution.

Article Info

Categories: Non Fiction