Memories to Manuscripts: Tips on How to Write a Memoir

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November 19, 2015

Narrating Your Life’s Events for the World to Read

Writing a memoir requires digging deep into your memories and personal history. It also means that you take the roles of both the author and the protagonist of the story. That may seem to be too much to ask of a writer, but actually, a memoir is by far the easiest book to work on. Your memories will serve as your research material. You won’t have to look elsewhere. You just have to write what you have experienced. As Ernest Hemingway used to say, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” or in this day and age, in the front of a computer.

how to start a memoir


Here are some tips on how to start a memoir:

Tip #1: Don’t write about your entire life.

Write a memoir, not an autobiography. What’s the difference anyway? Well, for starters, an autobiography chronicles your entire life, while a memoir details only a certain part of it.

Furthermore, here are the other differences between the two:

An autobiography is…

  • written chronologically in details, from beginning to end
  • informative and striving for historical truths
  • often written in a formal manner

A memoir is…

  • more personal
  • less formal
  • striving for emotional truths

Tip #2: Decide what aspect, event, or experience in your life you want to write about.

A memoir is a narrative about a portion of your life. What part of your life story will you be writing about? Choose one that means a lot to you – something that has made a big impact on your life and something that will create an impact on your readers as well.

Here are some possible topics that can be used as a theme for a memoir:

  • A memorable trip to one’s dream destination
  • How one struggled with addiction
  • A death of a loved one
  • A past relationship
  • How one survived a life-and-death situation
  • A memorable experience during one’s childhood
  • A major change in one’s life

Tip #3: Choose where you want your story to start.

How are you going to start your memoir? Most memoirs don’t start at the beginning. Telling your story in a chronological order can be quite predictable and less intriguing. Start your story with a bang. Choose a particular moment that will captivate your readers and make them want to explore your memoir further. Get them hooked. And then, you can add flashbacks and whatnot as you progress through your story.

Tip #4: Connect with your readers at an emotional level.

When writing a recollection of your past, take your readers on an emotional journey. This will compel them to keep reading until the last page. They’ll end up still thinking about you and your story even after they’ve finished reading your book. And then they’ll be so emotionally moved that they’d want to tell their friends what a great read your memoir was.

A great way to stir your readers emotions is to follow the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. For example, if you’re writing about a moment wherein you felt sad, don’t just write it as it is. Describe your body language and facial expression when you felt that certain emotion, and use colorful words to spike your readers’ imagination.

Tip #5: Always tell the truth.

Be honest when you are writing an account of personal happenings. This is the only way to make it a compelling and powerful material. However, this can be easier said than done. Since your life story had likely involved other people, you’ll have to write about them too. Some of them may not like it, so you have to be careful when writing about characters other than yourself. But you know what? Just go ahead and stick with the truth. That’s the most important rule. Just remember to write the truth as it was, and not in a manner influenced by resentment.

Always tell the truth.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have tons of bad experiences in life to write a good memoir. It doesn’t always have to be unhappy for you to get people to read it. There are people who want to read about a happy childhood or an epic love story, too. So, don’t worry if you’re not armed with as many scars from the past. You’ll do just fine as long as your story is honest, believable, and impactful.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to get started. Continue doing your research on how to write a memoir and start working on your memoir outline today.