Memoir writing tips: Getting started

If you can tell a story, then you can write a memoir. Think of it as story telling, not story writing.

We tell stories every day, whether to ourselves or someone else. The stories we explore help us discover what’s really important to us, what we think about the world around us, and how we fit into our families and communities.

Get started in a way that suits your style:

  • Scribble memories on sticky notes
  • Digital recorder (most smart phones have an app)
  • Bulleted items on lined paper or computer
  • Tell it to someone else over coffee (recorded, of course!)
  • Draw pictures and doodles

You may need some guidance in pulling all those stories together into a readable format, but you are the consummate teller of the stories of your life. Imagine how your memoir would read if your spouse or child were to write it. Ugh! They have a whole different perspective of your life from the outside in. It would sound like a eulogy or a bland list of dates and events. You control your legacy when you write it in your own voice, in your own words.

Listen to stories that other people share. We are all tempted to jump in to our own story that relates to the one just told. Listening carefully to others often sparks long forgotten memories of your own. Read memoirs to get a good idea of some universal themes that draw us all in to find out what happens at the end of each chapter, or the end of the book.

Subject of the memoir (Hint: It’s not really you!)

The stories that make up your life involve something that’s important to you such as love, forgiveness, mercy, service, honor, growth, transcendence, patriotism, loss, or other theme that is relatable on a universal level. Most of the time, these stories aren't centered around you, they focus on someone else, a shared experience, or a meaningful object. What recurring topics do you tend to return to or harp on when you're with your friends and family? Explore why you return to these themes, and you'll likely discover the topics to be included in your memoir.

Above all, have fun! Your life experiences really are that interesting and worth sharing with others. Someone, someday will share a good laugh or cry with you as they commiserate with you through the pages of your memoir.