How to Write a Memoir for New Authors

How to Write a Memoir - This article gives you some great tips to get started on your journey. If you get stuck, read the article that I recommend near the end of the end of this one to remind you why taking on this project will develop and deepen your skills as a writer.


Start with your family history. I highly recommend that you start by taking time to understand the forces that have shaped you from the start particularly the powerful forces of your parents and those who came before them and shaped how they viewed the world and the beliefs that they raised you with. Knowing your family's story will help put yours in perspective. It will also help you understand the challenges that you faced just by the fact of your birth into this family at this particular point in history.

If you want a step by step process for how to write a memoir, use this article as a starting point for questions to ask yourself and relatives about family history and events that you may not remember but have probably shaped your life.

What were the names of your grandparents and great grandparents? Who were they as human beings? What did they stand for? What did they have to struggle with in order to live their lives?

If you are the only person in your family who takes the time to write a memoir, then you will be learning about family history for everyone else. How did your ancestors come to this country? What is their cultural and religious background? I was surprised to discover after my grandmother's death that although she presented herself as a staunch Christian, she was actually born into a Jewish family. Now there's an interesting story. Uncovering stories like this makes the journey infinitely more interesting.

how to write a memoir
  • What did your predecessors do for a living? What were their struggles and triumphs? How were these struggles connected to the spirit of the times? Now tie these facts to your parents and then to you. How did your ancestors actions affect your parents, your circumstances as a child and shape your perceptions as an adult?
  • Create a timeline and fill it up with a chronology of your ancestors' lives. Highlight the most colorful characters. Make a separate sheet for each person and write down everything you know about them. Interview your family members and collect their stories. This is the research stage of how to write a memoir.
  • Create a timeline of your life. What events were most significant in shaping your perspective? Tie events together. How did one happening make something else possible? Tie your personal history to your ancestral history in as many ways as possible. Think of it this way: you are taking the threads of your ancestry and weaving a tapestry of your life.
  • Research local and world events that were occurring at key moments in your personal history. How did these events shape you and the choices you've made?
  • Your memoir writing journey begins with the information you have collated. Let the stories dictate the writing process. Leave out mundane events and focus on the details (however small) that led to epiphanies and mini transformations. Write for understanding. The biggest key in getting started is to write initially for yourself.
  • As you continue writing, keep the big picture in mind. Although you will initially write for yourself and your family, eventually, you need to start thinking of your readers. Here's the key of how to write a memoir that will make your work compelling to those outside your family circle: your memoir should help the reader overcome a problem or achieve a purpose. This can be anything that will be valuable to a targeted group of people, for instance, learning to live with a disability, raising a child, rising above racial prejudice to become successful, breaking down the family fortress of denial, or kicking an addiction. (Learn from James Frey's stupid and amateurish deception: a memoir is supposed to be based in truth. Don't write fiction and call it a memoir.) As part of the memoir, help your readers see how they can overcome a struggle or achieve what you've achieved. This is what makes it a interesting read. For more on the personal insights you'll glean, read this article on memoir writing.
  • Unless you're a celebrity, leave out mundane details. Highlight the key turning points that led to your greatest realizations, achievements and failures.

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How to Write a Memoir - Writing Tips

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