How to Write a Memoir

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve already begun your memoir. It’s in your letters and email. It’s in your blog and your notebook where you write longhand about your days. That’s what memoir is. We write about our days and our struggles and our wins. About our friends and family and everything we love. So why not make it an official memoir?

Writing a memoir could lead to publication, but more importantly, it provides history and a viewpoint only you can share. Whether you choose to share it with the public or with friends and family or not share it at all, memoir writing can be both rewarding and healing. It’s your story and only you can tell it.

So how do you go about it? Many articles will tell you to research your story before you write it. I’m not going to tell you that. Unless your story depends on official documentation, how do you research your life? You know how it felt and what your perceptions were, and that’s what writing a memoir is all about. Your own personal experiences. The research comes later and only if you want to sell it. The writing itself is all about you.

Look through your old diaries. Read old letters. Pay attention to the things you write about as you email friends. These are the things that make up a memoir and reading through them can trigger memories and emotions you may have forgotten. Write them down. Don’t worry about organization. Don’t worry about length. Just get them down as they come to you and write as if you’re telling a story to a friend.

The more you write, the more you’ll remember and it might seem as if the subject matter is everywhere. Some of it will be about your childhood. Some will be about your adult life. Your family and friends, work and hobbies. As you continue, you’ll notice a focus. Something you’re more compelled to write about than anything else. Maybe it’ll be your years in junior high. Or life with your mother, your husband, your sister. An illness or a business adventure. Whatever it is, these memories and the emotions tied to them will come to you most readily.

Sometimes the focus will shift when you least expect it. Don’t try to force your story into a mold. Just go with it. Often the more natural the flow, the more compelling the story. Life is surprising. Let your memoir be surprising too.

Once you feel you’ve written all you can or all you want to on the subject of your memoir, read through it. All of it. In the order you wrote it. Flesh it out where it needs to be fleshed. Cut it down where it needs to be cut. Then decide how you want to put it together.

There are a number of ways you can structure a memoir. The most obvious is chronological and that may work best for some stories, but it isn’t always the most interesting or compelling. Memoirs can be written as a straight story or in a series of essays, snapshot memories, journal entries, and letters. The structure is limited only by your imagination.

Once you have the structure down, read through it again, see if it needs any more editing, then decide what you want to do with it. You can search for an agent and try to sell your memoir. You can find a print-on-demand publisher such as Lulu and have it printed for your friends and family. Or you can keep it for yourself as a record of your days.

All of this might sound overwhelming and time consuming, but once you get going, you may find that it’s easier and more rewarding than you thought. You have a story to tell. So tell it like only you can.

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