Have you ever wanted to share your life story with the world, to capture the essence of your unique journey in words that resonate with others? Well, you’re in the right place! Writing a memoir is a powerful and cathartic way to preserve your memories, impart wisdom, and connect with readers on a personal level.
In this article, we will guide you through the art of crafting a compelling memoir that not only captures your experiences but also captivates your audience. Whether you’re a seasoned fiction writer or a novice, this article provides practical tips to bring your life story to life on the page.
How to Write a Memoir
What makes a memoir, a memoir? The word memoir means memory. This means that your book will center around certain memories that have changed or affected you during your lifetime.
Memoirs are based around a theme or an impactful event in one’s life. This could be anything; from getting a divorce to escaping the World Trade Center, to starting a band or being abused as a child.
Your theme will determine the type of memoir you will be writing. The important thing is to have a theme and stick to it. Possible themes can include:
- Tragedy and redemption
You may have a few themes which overlap, but you will need one main theme. This makes sure that everything ties together nicely. This will occur as you go through your writing process.
Perhaps you already know what you want to write. For the writers who are new to this or a little unsure, don’t be discouraged. Just start and you will discover your main theme as you go along. If you have a direction you want to start with, that’s good enough. So just start.
1. Know Your Theme (or Significant Event)
The most important thing to know, when learning how to write a memoir, is the main theme or event you will be writing about. This will save you a lot of time and energy.
To be sure you’ve chosen a strong theme, you might want to ask yourself these questions:
- Is this a story I would like to read about?
- What makes my story different?
- Is my story relatable in some way?
If you can make a convincing case for all three, then you might just have your theme.
2. Choosing a Theme
If you have looked up how to write a memoir, the likelihood is that you already have something in mind you feel drawn to write. But if you are unsure of your theme or have few to choose from, try this simple exercise:
- Write down any events in your life you think have had a large emotional impact upon you, or have changed you in some way.
- Keep a note of this in your pocket and add it to the list anytime you remember something of significance.
- Check the list once you think you have everything you can think of. Then write down and choose the event that elicits the largest emotional response or the one you are most enthused to write about.
If this doesn’t work, the best way to work out your main theme is to write a lot. The subject you are most focused on? Yep, you got it – that’s your theme.
3. How to Know You’ve Chosen the Right Theme
Try sharing your idea with a few close friends or anyone you feel comfortable with and see how they react to your story in real time. If it is with intrigue, that is a good sign.
The best way to know that you’re onto a winner is that people will say to you: ‘You should write a book about that’.
One other sure-fire way to know that your book should be written is that you can not write it. If you have a burning desire to write about your experience and find yourself thinking about writing it when you wake up, are in the shower, or at work, then it is asking to be told.
In that case, you owe it to yourself, to begin writing.
4. Check Yourself
Memoir can be a very sensitive and emotional genre to write. It can involve exploring difficult emotional issues and revisiting painful experiences that run deep.
So take your time. If you do not feel like you have healed from these experiences, make sure to get emotional support from a friend, family member, or trusted therapist.
If writing is a painful experience, then perhaps journalling or dropping it altogether for some time is a good idea. Remember, you are more important than art.
5. Read (A Lot)
You will need to read many memoirs to find out how to write a memoir. Watch films about other people’s lives, or read memoirs or examples from those who inspire you or have a similar story. Note what you liked or what stood out to you as emotionally impactful.
Notice how other people’s writing influences your style. This can be a good thing. As you incorporate other styles, you will find your unique style of writing.
Some examples you may have read (or may want to read) are:
- Boy, Roald Dahl
- Eat pray love, Elizabeth Gilbert
- Why be happy when you could be normal? Jeannette Winterson
- I know why the caged bird sings, Maya Angelou
- Thunderdog, Michael Hingson, Susy Flory
- A street cat named Bob, James Bowen
- As I walked out one midsummer morning, Laurie Lee
- A moveable feast, Ernest Hemingway
- I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
You can also explore memoir templates to get an idea of the actual structure. Squibler is an AI book writing tool that offers an extensive memoir writing template so you can start right away.
6. Who Are You Writing A Memoir For?
Many writers write for themselves. This can work well. If you find something interesting or emotional, oftentimes your readers will, too. Other writers will have ‘reader consciousness’ from the word go. Either way, at some point, the reader must be included in the mix. But it’s a balance. You need both.
When considering how to write a memoir, it can help to have a reader in mind. Steven King writes for his mother and wife. If you’re writing a memoir about domestic violence, you may be writing to another survivor, real or imaginary.
The first draft can be written just for you. But by the third draft, your editor will be considering the reader’s experience. And if you want them to love it, then you should, too.
7. Write for the Right Reasons
Want to know how to write a memoir? One thing to know is, that this is not the place to just vent feelings about annoying people or events. It’s about overcoming the difficulties of life. Not moaning about them.
If you have written 800,000 words about your exhausting trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, there will be golden moments hidden within the text. But no reader is going to wade through that much detail. So cut it out!
Neither is your book a place to get revenge. So, if you have some grudge against your 9th-grade teacher and want to get your own back, this is not the place to do it. If you want to feel good about using that anger, you’d be better off using it in a fictional piece of writing as fuel for one of your more unpleasant characters.
8. Know your Reasons and Find a Path
Everyone has a reason for writing a memoir. Work out yours. It will help guide you when you feel like giving up.
Take all of the tips we are giving you on how to write a memoir with a pinch of salt. Every writer has a path to walk to get to a published novel. So don’t feel like any are obligatory – all are optional and are meant to guide you and create the best memoir you can create. So if one of them stands out as useful to your process, then go for it.
If you feel lost, you may try all of them and see what you think. But never let a plan or memoir outline make you think that you don’t know what you are doing.
Your insights and instincts will guide you much better than any article post can. And that is what gives your book your stamp. It’s what makes it you. So trust yourself.
9. Just Start
Writing a memoir isn’t always a breeze; it’s like crafting a true story that reads like a novel. Condensing your life’s events into a compelling narrative can be even more challenging than fiction. However, the reward is deeply satisfying.
Sharing your personal life experiences here, ones that impacted you profoundly is a unique and fulfilling endeavor. Hopefully, your memoir will positively influence your readers and the world. When starting your powerful memoirs, jot down what inspires you. Perhaps a life-altering experience, like a car crash, gave you a fresh perspective worth sharing. Write down your ideas and related stories.
Establishing a writing routine can work wonders, making writing a habit, just like brushing your teeth. In the initial draft, let it all out without reservations – vent and spill your thoughts onto the page.
Considering how to begin can be daunting. To ease your concerns, practice freewriting and use writing prompts regularly. These exercises help you get into the writing groove and settle into your writing sessions effortlessly.
Use Squibler’s Smart Writer to write with the help of AI in seconds. Just explain your narrative to the AI tool, and it will handle the rest of the work and generate the content in a matter of seconds for you. This way, you not only enhance your efficiency, but also save time not worrying about grammar mistakes, professional language, and punctuation.
10. Write (A Lot)
Writing a memoir is easy. One sure way to know how to write a book is to write a lot. Try not to worry too much about anything in the beginning stages. Just make sure to express everything you have to express.
If you want a simple plan to get you started writing, try thinking up three different titles that relate to your theme. Don’t expect any of them to be the final title, but for the sake of writing, pick one.
Next, write out three possible first lines for your novel. You want to hook readers in. Again, this is just a practice exercise and the first line is to change during the rewrite.
Then, once you have this, decide on your most intense memory. This can be your climax.
Use an AI tool like Squibler to help with this phase. You provide the instructions to the AI and it will generate the content for you. Not just writing, but you can also rewrite, expand, and add more intensity, conflict, examples, and details to your memoir with the help of AI.
11. Plan/Don’t Plan
There are two types of writers. Those who plan and those who don’t. A plotter is called just that, and a ‘pantser’ is someone who flies by the seat of their pants. There is no right way to get to your finished product, but this is something to consider.
If you are a pantser, you will want to write at first – write a lot of your story, everything, even things that don’t seem relevant or interesting. Explore every avenue. That free flow will mean the nuggets of the story – the real emotional gems can be mined afterward. You will then later need to tussle with the idea of some kind of structure as you bring it all together.
If you are a planner, on the other hand, you will already know what you are going to be writing. This may save you some time, but it doesn’t make rewriting any less important. This means writing each section several times to make sure you have the strongest prose possible. The first chapter of Harry Potter was rewritten 20 times before JK was satisfied, so bear that in mind.
If you want to write a memoir outline in detail, you will want to make a note of who is in each scene, the location, date, conflict, and the momentum of each scene (i.e. what the result will be).
Online tools, such as Squibler can, of course, help with this process. While this is useful, make sure you don’t get too bogged down in the details. And to allow it some room to breathe. That could mean allowing some extra time before or after your planned scene to write and just see what happens.
12. Don’t Be Afraid of Bad Writing
Don’t be discouraged if your first draft is terrible. It’s meant to be. That’s why it’s a first draft.
If you’re not happy with the content of your work, don’t be afraid to get rid of what you’ve done and start all over again. Sometimes you need a fresh slate.
Mostly, however, you need time, and a lot more words down on the page, before you discover anything worth putting in the final manuscript.
13. Have a Variety of Characters
Just like a novel, you will want to have a variety of characters featured within your memoir. Make sure they are interesting and varied i.e. don’t have all good or all bad characters. Even if your memoir focuses on someone stuck in a box for two days, you can draw characters out of the woodwork by using flashbacks.
A great example of this is Richard from Texas calling our main character ‘groceries’ throughout the entire book. This term of endearment, along with his description of looking like James Taylor, gives us a clear depiction of a character who would otherwise have been flat.
You can plot your characters, and store their description and details inside Squibler. The character profile is stored and you can always invoke it when you need them in your context. This way you not only reduce your work but also customize and enhance the AI tool by feeding it your crucial elements like characters, plots, and scenes.
An important part of a memoir is having different levels and turning points of story happening at the same time. This is the same as for any book. It keeps the reader interested and on their toes.
To do this you can tie in other thoughts or experiences that relate to what is happening. This should happen quite naturally, as our memories are often not linear. And neither is the story.
With Squibler, you can divide your memoir into sections and chapters inside one single editor. You can access those chapters as you go and work with better organization.
15. ‘Aha’ Moments
A good memoir often includes little pockets of insight left for the reader. While there will be a main takeaway at the end of the great memoir often, they are often also sprinkled with ideas that most of us can relate to. (Even if we have not been through the same experience as the author.)
For example, when talking about her divorce in Eat Pray Love, Gilbert notes, “This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.”
Don’t try and make these moments happen – they should appear organically. No one likes to read a lecture. You’ll know the difference because the insight will surprise you.
16. Know Story Structure
A satisfying component of a story is the idea that something is difficult to obtain, and by the end, your character has got it. This happens in all genres and memoirs are no different. Have a point A and a point B in mind. This will keep you on track and help you if you ever get lost.
You can (be as flexible with this as you like,) changing the protagonist’s (your) aim if needs be. But always know where you’re headed and where you’ve been.
However, if you struggle with developing a good structure, you can always use Squibler’s existing memoir templates that are professionally structured, outlined, and ready for you to work on.
17. Character Arc
In the same way, you need a structure for your story, you will also need your protagonist to go through some changes. Just like in a novel, a memoir requires the main character to go through enough trials and tribulations that by the end of the book adds to their personal growth.
This means you must have found some way of using your experience to see things in a different light. Or, that you have changed your own life, in some way as a result.
18. Be Honest
The magic of a good memoir is its raw authenticity and emotional truth.
When someone is being vulnerable and pouring their inner thoughts and fears onto the page, this vulnerability is what the process is all about. If you can open up, then you become much more appealing and relatable as a character.
On the other hand, if you feel you have to lie for the story to be compelling, consider writing a fictional work with truthful elements laced within its pages. Readers who have been deceived in a non-fiction work, are not happy.
19. Be Vulnerable
Memoir is the art of connection. The person that has shown us their soul on paper, is someone we will care about. We want to read on, to find out what happens to them.
So open up, relax into what you are writing, and be you. Only then can the reader see the whole truth in you. And that is the only way they can see themselves in you.
20. Get Uncomfortable
You will come across a passage that feels a little bit tender or raw and embarrassing to show in the light of day, maybe you even feel a little ashamed of it. That feeling is what vulnerable writing is all about. The part perhaps, where you’re too embarrassed to share it with your closest friends? That is the best part of your writing. So don’t shy away from it. Check with an editor. The hardest-hitting parts are most often the scariest to share.
This is the part that makes you most relatable and attractive as a character and to your readers. (If you’re writing a memoir about a difficult subject, this may happen a lot. That’s the juice. Just be careful to make sure, as iterated above, to take care of yourself, first, over the art.)
21. Keep on Theme
This is the most important point.
While writing a memoir (once you have gotten all of your thoughts down on paper) make sure you don’t go too far off the beaten track. If you do, then perhaps you were meant to be writing about something else, anyway. But for argument’s sake, keep on topic.
Each point in your story will, ideally, link together nicely, some stories will not relate to your lesson learned but will contribute to the realization of it. In the same way, never tell an anecdote just for the sake of it. Instead, make sure that the logic of your story falls like dominoes, i.e. one section leads to the other.
22. Tone of Voice
The more you can show your personality through your style within your text, the better.
During your first draft, you will be just getting your thoughts and ideas down onto paper. By your second, you may want to begin thinking about the tone of your writing. The more honest you are, the easier this process will be.
If you’re stuck, try speaking into a tape player before writing another word. Otherwise, you can try a speech recognition tool while writing. This will capture your exact tone of voice when speaking and may give the book a more personal and authentic touch.
23. Show, Don’t Tell
This is another simple stylistic point, and it makes all the difference. But what does it mean?
Essentially, showing through your writing means to describe and give a vivid picture that plants the reader within the scene. It takes them right there. Telling, meanwhile, is a summary of whatever it is you are describing.
It won’t engage the reader or writer in the same way.
It could be useful, as you write your first draft, to note down all of the things you could see, smell, touch, and taste. This will help bring back the memory immediately. It will also make your writing more vivid.
During the later drafts, you can use this tip to make your writing come alive. A feeling of distrust becomes a tension in your shoulders as the hairs on your arm bristle. A tree branch breaking becomes a sound like the fracturing of bones. Showing and not telling ensures your writing is colorful and engaging for your reader.
Use Squibler’s advanced AI tool to work on the “Show, not Tell” part. Just select an existing brief text and Squibler will come up with multiple options of rich content that you can choose from.
24. Write and Rewrite Again
This is simple. Once you have your first draft checked off, you might want to take a rest before jumping into the second draft. Or not. Either way, bear in mind the fact that you will need to write at least three drafts before you have anything that resembles a finished piece of work.
You can split up this process by rewriting individual chapters, to ensure each is well-written, or you can take one story and work on it as a whole.
“If the body language is right, then the emotion and the thought will be right: and that is the powerful moment, when the reader understands you, regardless.”
Jeanette Winterson, author of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
This is what you’re aiming for.
The rewrite is a good time to develop more precise descriptions and your use of language. It is also a good time to consider changing the order of events. Play around with style and form until you’re happy.
You can save your time to rewrite by using an AI writing tool. Squibler is an AI writing tool that allows you to generate content with AI in a matter of seconds. You can write, rewrite, and summarize your content in a matter of seconds.
25. Consider Privacy/Confidentiality
At this stage, you will want to consider the people involved in your book. If it is a serious and tragic confessional, then at least one of the people involved might be hurt by you ‘outing’ their identity.
This is where it’s important to have an attorney at hand. You need to make sure their privacy is intact, that their name has been changed, and that there are no distinguishable features that would mean they could be recognized and/or shamed by their family history or community. In certain cases, you might also want to consider hiding your own identity.
This is the point where your message becomes razor-sharp. Your chapters are succinct. And your story structure is coherent and exciting.
Editing can vary from changing the chronological order of the events that take place in the book, to making sure your style and characterization are consistent.
Whatever it is you need help with, make sure you choose an editor that you like and trust. And who is experienced? This is most important with a memoir as such personal material needs to be treated with care and a certain delicacy.
Be prepared to kill your darlings. Try to be open to criticism, as your editor, as long as they know what they are doing, will ensure a good book becomes a great one.
Once fully edited, you will want your whole book again to be proofread. You can ask friends and even family members to help out with this (if you are lucky enough to know some who are patient enough to do this). As well as this, getting at least one professional proofreader to look over your work is advisable. The more you can get, the merrier.
You don’t want to put all this work into something, pour your heart and soul into it to find that you have a typo on page 67. More than one typo or punctuation error will begin to look unprofessional, so this is an important stage of the writing process.
A large part of how to write a memoir is to be determined, in part, by whether you have thought through how your book is going to be published. The second or third draft may be a good time to start thinking about marketability and where it would sit on the bookshelves in your local bookshop.
If you intend on going with a traditional publisher, then knowing what sells and whether your concept is marketable is important. If you want to self-publish and market it yourself, then being aware of your target audience is also a plus.
If you’re not worried at all about sales and have to get this down on paper, then great, you won’t have to worry about the market at all. Bear in mind that successful books can sometimes become a big hit because the author did not make this their priority. This meant their books didn’t quite fit in, they were so niche that they stood out amongst the crowd.
H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald, for example, is a memoir filled with insight into grief and loss as the main character deals with the loss of her father through learning falconry, something he loved to do during his lifetime. McDonald was concerned it would not fit in anywhere, as she couldn’t find any other book that was both a memoir and a book on birds. This difference and originality, however, could have just given her the edge.
With Squibler, you can explore your memoir in various publishing formats like PDF, txt, and Kindle.
Difference between Memoir and Autobiography
Both memoirs and autobiographies are books about someone’s life, right? So what’s the difference?
Well, it’s pretty simple.
A memoir has to do with a specific part of the writer’s life. It has a theme. The author will have in mind a time when their own live and perspective changed. The amount of time can span from an hour to several years, depending upon how long the process of learning took.
An autobiography is a chronological sequence history of events. It works from the moment the writer was born up until now.
This means that if you’ve had an interesting life, you might want to write an autobiography. But if there is one particular happening in your life worth taking notice of, then you might be best going with a memoir.
In conclusion, writing a memoir is an incredible journey of self-discovery and connection with others. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to tell your story; it’s about sharing your unique experiences and perspective. Be honest, be passionate, and most importantly, be yourself.
As you embark on this literary adventure, keep in mind the tips we’ve shared: choose your stories wisely, engage your readers with vivid yet intricate details, and organize your memoir in such a way that suits your narrative best. And don’t forget, it’s okay to take your time and revise your work until it feels just right.
So, grab that pen or keyboard and start writing your own memoir now. Your story is worth sharing, and there are readers out there waiting to be inspired by your journey. Happy writing!
Here is a list of common questions that authors ask memoir writers about writing memoirs:
How do I choose what to include in my memoir?
Begin by reflecting on the pivotal moments, life lessons, and experiences that have shaped you the most. Select the stories and memories that have had a lasting impact on your life and can resonate with your readers.
Should I be worried about hurting people’s feelings by sharing personal stories?
It’s essential to be respectful and considerate. Change names or use pseudonyms if necessary. Focus on your perspective and feelings, rather than casting blame or judgment on others.
How do I make my memoir engaging and relatable to readers?
Share your emotions and vulnerabilities honestly. Use descriptive language and vivid details to paint a clear picture of your own experiences here. Let your authentic voice shine through to connect with your audience.
What’s the best way to organize my memoir?
Consider a chronological approach, starting from your earliest memories and progressing through your entire life then. Alternatively, use thematic chapters to group related stories and reflections together.
Is it necessary to write in a strict timeline or can I skip around in my storytelling?
You can jump around in your memoir, but it’s crucial to ensure a smooth flow for your readers. Use transitions and clear markers to guide them through key differences in your journey.
How long should my memoir be?
Focus on telling your compelling story, rather than worrying about a specific word count. Most memoirs range from 60,000 to 100,000 words, but the length should serve your narrative, not constrain it.