How to Write a Memoir: 7 Creative Ways to Tell a Powerful Story

How to Write a Memoir: 7 Creative Ways to Tell a Powerful Story

Whether you curl up with memoirs on a frequent basis or pick one up every now and again, you know powerful memoirs have the capacity to take readers for an exhilarating ride.

When I teach people how to write a memoir, we talk about how to tell a compelling story. While all memoirs are different, the best memoirs all have certain elements in common. Knowing what makes a memoir compelling and riveting is key when sitting down to craft your own.

Let’s review some of those common elements, so you can weave them into your own memoir.

What is a memoir?

Before we start, let’s define memoir.

Memoir is not an autobiography. In other words, it is not the story of your whole life. Memoir is slice of life, a story of part of your life or a story from your life.

The scope of memoir will vary depending on the subject matter, but more often than not, aspiring memoirists come to the page with too much story that needs to be pared down. One way to do that is to get clear about your themes. Memoir is often reined in by the writer knowing what her themes are and writing each scene while holding two questions in mind:

  • How does this scene relate to my theme?
  • What sense am I trying to make of my story through writing this scene?

Memoir is about creating understanding, making sense of your story so that others can relate. Memoir is not “what happened,” because unless you’re famous, what happened to you in your life is not what will draw readers to the page. What draws readers is the subject matter (surviving a trauma, trying to live by the tenets of self-help books, living in prison) or the theme (addiction, parent-child relationships, repeating family patterns, identity). 

A memoir that lacks an author’s effort to extract meaning from their story is usually a slow read. A reader may find themselves wondering what’s the point? If there’s nothing in the story for the reader, the memoir is lacking reflection and takeaway, which are two key elements that are unique to memoir, and are therefore also two key elements that define the genre.  

Looking to write and publish your life story? Check out Self-Publishing School’s brand-new free training for aspiring memoir writers on The 3 Core Elements of Every Memorable Memoir You Need to Get It Right

How to write a memoir

If you’re planning to write a memoir, you’ll want to take your readers on a journey they won’t forget. In this post, we share tips for writing a memoir well, as well as share plenty of memoir examples.

Here’s how to write a memoir.

1. Narrow your focus

Your memoir should be written as if the entire book is a snapshot of a theme or two from your lived experience. Consider a pie, where your life represents the whole pie, and you are writing a book about a teeny-tiny sliver.

Since your memoir is not an autobiography, you can figure out your themes by making a timeline of your life. In the classes I teach, we call these “turning points” and it’s a valuable exercise to discover where the juice is, to sort out where to focus and where you might have the most to extract from your story. You want your readers to walk away knowing you, and a particular experience you lived through, on a much deeper level, but also to apply their own understanding of their own experiences to your story.

Perhaps you are familiar with “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt. This memoir focuses on Frank’s life as a child growing up in Ireland. Angela is his mother, and much of the storyline focuses on the mother-son relationship, and how Frank saw her, as well as the role of outside forces like alcoholism, loss, and trauma on their entire family.

2. Include more than just your story

Even as you narrow your focus, we also need to think bigger in our writing pursuits.

For example, if Kamala Harris wrote a memoir about being a wife and stepmother while pursuing her career, she would pull in tidbits about how she juggled these roles when she had such a big job and big ambitions. She would let us into the intimate moments, including fights she might have had with her husband over the impossible kind of balance women in power who also have families face.  

Likewise, if Madonna was writing a memoir about reinventing herself after 20 years away from the public spotlight, she most likely would include what it felt like to return to the music scene and how she continued to travel and perform while raising her children.

How does this apply to you? Imagine you are writing a memoir about your three-week trek through the Himalayan Mountains. While the focus would be on your trip, as well as what you learned about yourself along the way, you would be wise to also include other details about the place, the people your experience, and what you learned not only about yourself, but about human nature and the wider world.

You could describe the geography and history of the area, share interesting snippets about the people and animals you interacted with, and discuss your exploration of the meaning of it all as you progressed along your arduous journey.

Your readers want to know about you, but also about what got you to this place to begin with. What prompted the trek? What is your backstory? What did you learn about yourself along the way? It’s these kinds of vivid details and astute observations that make for a powerful memoir.

3. Tell the truth

One of the best tips for how to write a powerful memoir is to be honest and genuine. This is often tricky because we don’t want to hurt or upset the people (our family and friends!) we’ve written into our books. But it’s important that you mine for the truth of your story — even if it makes your journey as an author more difficult.

When Shannon Hernandez wrote her memoir, “Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher,” she knew she had a major dilemma: “If I opted to tell the whole truth, I would pretty much ensure I would never get a job with New York City Public Schools again.”

But she also knew teachers, parents and administrators needed to hear why great teachers are leaving education in droves and why the current educational system is not doing what’s best for our nation’s kids.

“I wrote my book with brutal honesty,” she said, “and it has paid off with my readers. It’s bringing national attention to what is happening behind closed school doors.”

One more note on honesty: Memoirs explore the concept of truth as seen through your eyes. Never write in a snarky manner or with a bitter tone. The motivation for writing a memoir shouldn’t be to exact revenge or whine or seek forgiveness; it should simply be to share an experience that readers can relate to.

Don’t exaggerate or bend the truth in your memoir. If you find you can’t remember, that’s okay, too. You can write composite scenes. You can lean into what “would have been true,” insofar as the details — your mother would have worn a particular style of dress, your best friend would have been chewing her favorite gum, your brother would have yelled something like the insult you decide to write. You don’t need to fabricate or embellish, but you also didn’t live your life with a tape recorder strapped to your belt, so memoir is all about recreating what happened while honoring the emotional truth of your story.

4. Put your readers in your shoes

Powerful writers show, not tell. And for a memoir writer, this is essential to your success, because you must invite your reader into your perspective so she can draw her own conclusions.

The best way to do this is to unfold the story before your reader’s eyes by using vivid language that helps your reader visualize each scene. Mary Karr, author of three memoirs and the book, “The Art of Memoir,” writes that you must zip the reader into your skin. Another way to think of it is to imagine you’re carrying an old-school camcorder on your shoulder as you guide your reader through the scenes of your life. You want to place your reader right there next to you, or better yet, inside of your experiences. 

Perhaps you want to explain that your aunt was a “raging alcoholic.” If you say this directly, your description will likely come across as judgmental and critical.

Instead, paint a picture for your audience so they come to this conclusion on their own. You might write something like this:

“Vodka bottles littered her bedroom, and I had learned the hard way not to knock on her door until well after noon. Most days she didn’t emerge into our living quarters until closer to sunset, and I would read her facial expression to gauge whether or not I should inquire about money—just so I could eat one meal before bedtime.”

5. Employ elements of fiction to bring your story to life

Think of the people in memoirs as characters. A great memoir pulls you into their lives: what they struggle with, what they are successful at, and what they wonder about.

Many of the best memoir writers focus on a few key characteristics of their characters, allowing the reader to get to know each one in depth. Your readers must be able to feel emotions about your characters—love or hate or something in between.  

To bring your characters alive, bring details like the characters’ tone of voice, how they talk, their body language and movements, and their style of speech. Read other memoirs to get a sense of how writers introduce place and setting into their stories through their characters—their accents, their behaviors, their shared values.  

While your memoir is a true story, employing elements of fiction can make it far more powerful and enjoyable for your readers, and one point of craft is learning how to create strong characters your readers will feel like they know.

6. Create an emotional journey

Don’t aim to knock your readers’ socks off. Knock off their pants, shirt, shoes and underwear too! Leave your readers with their mouths open in awe, or laughing hysterically, or crying tears of sympathy and sadness — or all three.

Take them on an emotional journey that motivates them to read the next chapter, wonder about you well after they finish the last page, and tell their friends and colleagues about your book. The best way to evoke these feelings in your readers is to connect your emotions, as the protagonist, with pivotal reflections and takeaways about the happening throughout your narrative arc.

Most of us are familiar with the narrative arc. In school, our teachers used to draw a “mountain” and once we reached the precipice, we were to fill in the climatic point of the book or story. Your memoir is no different: You need to create enough tension to shape your overall story, as well as each individual chapter, with that narrative arc.

In “Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Garcia, we witness a boy growing up undocumented in the United States, the child of parents who crossed him over the US-Mexico border when he was just five years old. You’ll never find Marcelo telling us he was sad, angry, or devastated. 

Instead, he writes of his disappointment after his mother didn’t get her green card:

“It’s okay, mijo, we tried,” Ama said to me as I drove her to church one day.

“Yeah, Amá, we tried, I said, hoping that between each of our admissions, at least one of us would actually believe it was worth it.

Or of his fear when ICE raids his childhood home: 

We stood there, frozen, unsure oof what to do. The inner urge to flee was replaced with paralyzed submission—we were cemented in place. In that moment, if anyone wished to do so, they could have walked through the door, commanded us to cut ourselves open, and we would have probably listened. 

Looking to write and publish your life story? Check out Self-Publishing School’s brand-new free training for aspiring memoir writers on The 3 Core Elements of Every Memorable Memoir You Need to Get It Right

7. Showcase your personal growth

By the end of your memoir, you need to have shown growth or change or transformation of yourself, the protagonist of your story.  

Whatever experiences you had throughout your book will carry more weight when you show how they affected you along your journey, and how you grew and changed as a result of what you lived through, or what you survived. How did what you went through change your approach to life? Change how you thought about others or yourself? Help you become a better or wiser person in some way?

This is often be the hardest part of writing a memoir because it requires introspection—sometimes in the form of hindsight, certainly in the form of self-reflection. It requires you sometimes to write with an understanding that your character might not have known then — at the age you were. This is why it’s so important to learn how to weave in reflections that don’t break the fictive dream.

You don’t want to constantly interrupt your narrative with asides, like, “Now I understand … ” “I still wish my mother had treated me better … ” Instead you want to allow for the reflection to exist almost as if it’s an omniscient knowing, because in many ways it is. No one knows your story better than you—and you’re allowed, throughout your story—to extract meaning and apply understanding. Not only are you allowed, the genre demands it.  

If you make meaning from your story, your readers will find meaning in your story, too.

Memoir examples as inspiration

Let’s look at a few memoir examples.

We broke these into three categories of memoirs, those that can help us learn about structure, theme and takeaway. Each of these are essential elements of the genre.

Examples of memoirs that use an effective structure

Although you’ll hear from memoirists who didn’t use an outline, or who prefer a process over a structured experience, most memoirists can benefit from having a structure in place before they start writing.

The most straightforward memoirs are those that start at point A and end at point B, moving the reader along in linear time.

Some examples include coming-of-age memoirs, like Kiese Laymon’s “Heavy” or Daisy Hernandez’s “A Cup of Water Under My Bed,” or memoirs that are narrowly focused, like Lori Gottleib’s “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” or Jennifer Pastiloff’s “On Being Human.”

Then there are framed memoirs, like Dani Shapiro’s “Inheritance” which chronicles the A to B linear journey of finding out that the father who raised her was not her biological father, making use of flashback and memory to piece together the front story of what’s happening as she figures out the truth of who she really is. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, is another famous framed memoir, because the A to B story is her trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, but the use of flashback and memory has her constantly leaving the front story and entering into the backstory to give context for why she’s on this journey in the first place. 

There are also thematic memoirs, like Terese Marie Mailhot’s “Heart Berries,” which focuses on themes of identity and trauma and its impact on her and her family, but reaches more broadly into the experience of being Native American. 

Examples of thematic memoirs

Thematic memoirs abound typically sell better than other memoirs because they’re what the industry calls “high-concept,” meaning that they’re easy for buyers and readers to wrap their minds around.

Countless categories of memoir point to big-picture themes: addiction and recovery; parenting; travel; cooking; coming-of-age; dysfunctional family; religious experience; death and dying; divorce; and more.

Your theme (or sometimes themes) infuses every chapter you write, and it/they can be quite nuanced. For instance, a theme might be healing through running.

Once you identify your theme, you must always keep sight of it. I liken this to wearing a pair of tinted glasses. If you put on glasses with purple lenses, you can still see the entirety of the world around you, but you will never forget that you’re wearing the glasses because everything you look at is tinted purple.

The same should be true with good memoir: introduce the reader to your world, but keep your memoir contained and on point by keeping your principal (and sometimes secondary) themes front and center.

Single-issue memoirs about things like addiction, body image, or illness — including books like “Hunger: A Memoir of (My Body)” by Roxane Gay;  “Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood” by Koren Zailckas; “Sick: A Memoir” by Porochista Khakpour; or Laura M. Flynn’s “Swallow the Ocean: A Memoir”, about growing up with an mentally unwell parent are all great examples. 

For travel memoirs, or food memoirs, or memoirs of leaving home, check out books like “The Expedition” by Chris Fagan; or “A Tiger in the Kitchen” by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan; or “Blood, Bones, and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton.

Examples of memoirs with strong takeaways

Takeaway is your gift to the reader. It’s a message, reflection, or truism.

Sometimes these fall at the end of scenes or the end of chapters, but that’s not always necessary. Takeaway can happen at any moment, when the author shares something heartfelt, universal, and true.

It’s those moments in reading memoir that hit you hard because you can relate — even if you haven’t had the exact experience the author is describing.

Takeaway: A gift to the reader

Understanding takeaway is a long process, and some authors, when they first start thinking about takeaway, make the mistake of being too overt or trying too hard.

These are subtle moments of observation about the world around you, a wrapping up of an experience through a lesson learned or the sharing of the way something impacted you. The idea is to sprinkle these moments into your chapters, without overwhelming or spoon-feeding your reader.

Good writers do this so seamlessly you don’t even realize it happened, except that you feel like he or she has burst your heart, or crushed you with the weight of their insight. You feel like you know the author because it’s as if she’s speaking directly to you.

Good takeaway is, in fact, mirroring. It’s a way of relaying that we are not alone and the world is a crazy place, isn’t it?

As an example, here’s a reflective passage from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia:”

But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal? Or to learn how to speak a language for no higher purpose than that it pleases your ear to hear it? Or to nap in a garden, in a patch of sunlight, in the middle of the day, right next to your favorite foundation? And then to do it again the next day?

Of course, no one can live like this forever.

Not all reflective passages have to be questions, but you can see that this technique is effective. Gilbert is ruminating over the life she’s living, but which she cannot maintain; in her experience — through the vantage point of her American understanding of the world — it’s not possible, and undoubtedly 99% of her readers agree.

We all know what it feels like to be saddled by the burdens of everyday life. Gilbert’s readers would feel this passage on a visceral level, even if they’d never before been to Italy, because everyone understands the longing that’s wrapped up in allowing yourself to just let down. And that’s what makes this a takeaway; it’s a universal connection to the reader.

Looking to write and publish your life story? Check out Self-Publishing School’s brand-new free training for aspiring memoir writers on The 3 Core Elements of Every Memorable Memoir You Need to Get It Right

Now get out there and write!

When you follow these guidelines while writing your memoir, you will captivate your audience and leave them begging for more.

But more important, you will share your own authentic story with the world.

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Filed Under: Craft

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  • Delanie says:

    I’ve been up a good portion of the night, as I usually am, pursuing the Internet to discover true inspiration for writing. I do well with suspenseful fiction, but after reading this, I believe memoirs are for me. As an impassioned Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” My spark has been reignited after years of lying dormant, and all it took was a grade 12 English course, and the approval and commendation of a truly dedicated teacher. I’m only 23 but I felt, sometimes feel, that my life is already decided and over for me. What I’m really asking is, is the fear of ostracism for exposing your true self greater than the reward of unleashing your soul, not for the world, but for your own inner peace, or is this a rationale that slowly subsides to the latter with age. I have a story to tell, I do. I Just don’t know if it’s the time. By the way, you are a very captivating writer and it’s moments like this I’m so very upset for anonymity of the vast Internet, as I probably won’t ever truly ‘know’ writers like yourself.

  • Pimion says:

    Shannon, it’s amazing post! I haven’t written memoirs yet, but I’m going to try. And I love to read memoirs that include interesting details not only the sequence of what happened to the person I read about.

  • Shannon says:

    Hey Brian! Thanks so much for your kind words! Two thumbs up and a smile right back to you!

  • Brian N says:

    Beautifully writen, clear concise, insightful.
    Two thumbs up and a smile.

  • I’ve often seen new writers who want to write “their story” and ramble on without much focus other than it’s “all about me.” This is a great reminder that memoirs need to be compelling stories that focus on emotions and situations that can tug at the readers hearts who didn’t grow up with you.

    • Shannon says:

      I think it is best to start out with a theme for the memoir, Chris. And this helps pull all the pieces together. Everything I wrote — I checked against the theme to see if it “fit”. Narrow focus and relating to audience are certainly key.

  • I am currently working on a memoir, which I hope to have published in a month or two. This is great advice. I’m going to order your memoir to see how you wrote yours.

    • Shannon says:

      Hey Marilyn! Keep writing–and please shoot me an email (email at back of my book) when you are doing reading my memoir. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Marlene Tucker says:

    Yes, I have written my memoir and interestingly enough, it appears as if I have captured what you recommended in your article. Confirms I am on target. You can find a short recap of my book on Thank you!

    Marlene Tucker
    Author of “Loosed: You can live again” now available at Outskirts Press, Barnes & Nobles, Books A Million, Amazon, and their affiliates.

  • Marlene Tucker says:

    Yes, I have written my memoir and interestingly enough, it appears as if I have captured what you recommended in your article. Confirms I am on target. ou can find a short recap of my book on Thank you!

    Marlene Tucker
    Author of “Loosed: You can live again” now available at Outskirts Press, Barnes & Nobles, Books A Million, Amazon, and their affiliates.

  • Fantastic article! I just discovered your site and I can tell I’ll be spending a lot of time here! I just finished a business book, my first, 20 years in the making. As I read I imagined myself writing a memoir about the journey. Thank you!

  • Michelle says:

    I have been meaning to write my memoir for several years now in hopes to find some healing in the loss of my 19 year old daughter while she was in the Air Force. It has been to scary because of the pain whenever I think about it. Your ideas are well stated and clearly stated and give me some direction where I think it is now time to sit down and write this.

    • Shannon says:

      Hey Michelle. So sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter. Writing memoir can be painful, but the end result is that it will impact so me–it will be powerful! I am happy you found some clarity and inspiration.

  • Thank you ever so much Shannon, this is a brilliant and very helpful post, I am just an aspiring writer I am no where near writing a memoir yet but I decided to blog. I have two blogs one where I share my daily life experiences and encounters whose address I have put above. The other is about the breakdown of my marriage whose address is I am certainly going to take your advice and make my blogs authentic and help my viewers to get to know me and my life story. Thank you once again.

    • Shannon says:

      Mabel, blogging is a super way to start a book. The more REAL you can be, the more people will engage with you and trust you. I just had this video produced and am releasing next week, and I talk about being real here:

      • Hi Shanon,
        Thank you for giving the link to your talk on you tube which makes very interesting listening. I have considered all you have said about writing a memoir and am currently deciding what my focus is going to be.

    • Yun says:

      Hi Mabel, was reading your blog at work. what a sad story! I was about to ask you this question: Did your Ex tried to apologize for his behavior or he just left you in this situation? Apart from cheating you, what else was the major cause of your divorce?

  • Nicki says:

    Shannon – super great post, thanks! Insightful and actionable. I loved your reminder on narrowing the focus… how a memoir is “slice,” not the whole pie 🙂 The first chapter of my book is written and free on my site. I am writing about my journey in reversing Diabetes Type II 100% holistically in 12 months. Where it all started.. where I’m at now… 🙂

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Nicki! Such a very important topic indeed. Be sure you have a content strategy to get the word out. I have seen my book and podcast explode the past two months because I followed a content strategy (one I developed) and have stuck to it. Authors are brands too!

      • Kalyani says:

        Hi shannon , I m kalyani , wanting to write a book for past 30 yrs and never gettinb down to it thinking who will want to read a story of my life , a memoir so to speak . But after reading a few of them above , with ur encouragement , I m beginning to get an idea i think lol . Thank u

  • Truthout says:

    Thank you, Shannon, for this insightful advice. I’m attempting to write a memoir about five years I spent in Palestine. I’ve used too much time thinking about it and not starting. Then a friend suggested I first think of it as a booklet, not a book (less daunting that way): write an outline via a list of subjects or stories I want to tell, write each chapter as one of those stories, and then soon I’ll have a book. This is working for me. Your six rules will enhance what I’ve completed and guide me to add more depth to the remainder. -Bettye

  • I know there is a memoir within me, but I didn’t know how or where to start. Your article has certainly ignited some ideas in my mind….thank you, Shannon! #HUGS


  • Wendy says:

    I’ve been needing to write a memoir for most of my life; but there’s so many ways to approach it, I end up spinning my wheels trying to decide which way to come at it. Not to mention the focus of the book is,well, depressing, so if I’m feeling good, I don’t want to bring myself down writing about it, and if I’m feeling the focus TOO much, I don’t want to do ANYTHING.

    • Shannon says:

      Hey Wendy, I hear ya. I had to go to my parent’s cabin to finish my book–where I could scream and cry and yell and hit the pillow (all of these did happen!) when I needed to relive the hard parts. But to get all that off my chest and into something I am now proud of is key! 🙂

      When I work with my memoir writers, we talk about the emotions, and ways of handling them and dealing with them as we write. It’s natural–know that you are not alone in this! xo

    • Michelle monet says:

      I can relate so much wendy. On my good days I dont want to go down into the depths of pain! But on the other hand I know I am compelled to write this story

  • Mike Welker says:

    Thank you Shannon for the great article! I am looking to start writing a memoir of my wife’s struggle with, and ultimate demise from Cystic Fibrosis, and how it relates to parenting, grief, and life in general.

    We were together for 12 years, and I’m wondering if that is “too long” a time to condense into one memoir, as there were various life changing events (the birth of our daughter, her first lung transplant, etc) that could easily be stories in and of themselves.

    Most of my recent exploration into writing has been in blog format, specifically regarding grief and loss, and I would really like to begin writing about the happier times, and I believe a memoir is the way to begin.

    • Shannon says:

      Mike–what a great idea for a memoir. I think that if you think about the theme of the book, and then relate the stories to that theme, you will be just fine. As yourself, what do I want my readers to walk away knowing when they close the book? That is the theme, and then pick the bits and pieces that fit to that theme. Sound good?

  • Thanks for the helpful article. I’m wondering how much of your advice I can apply to my current project. I have been hired to write the story of a 95 year-old woman. I’ve been interviewing her once or twice a week for several months. Her children approached me to do this, but she is excited about it and looking forward to seeing the book. I guess it will be more of a biography than a memoir, but I want to include stories written as scenes, with details to keep it interesting.

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Carolyn! I think you have the “write” idea to think of each chapter as a scene and lead your readers through those scenes as they progress through the book. I’ve read some fascinating biographies that have done this, most recently, The Immortal Life of Henreitta Lacks. Have you read this book? You might want to snag a copy and study the organization!

  • Faith Singer says:

    Thank you Shannon for your sage advice. I’ve been working on my memoirs in essay form for about 10 years now with the help of my writer’s group. I appreciate what you say about creating a story with arc and viewing the people in the memoir as characters. In addition, I’m grateful for the recommendation of picking one time period (“a sliver of pie”) rather than doing a chronology of everything. Now I realize that I have 3 distinct events that happened in my life to shape me and I look forward to gearing my memoirs towards that goal. Your advice opened my eyes to the possibilities…

    • Shannon says:

      Hey Faith. Yes, go for the sliver method. I started working with a memoir writer today and once we narrowed the focus to overarching theme, it was much easier to find the slivers that fit that theme. Good luck! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  • Sharisa says:


    This is such a great article and with tons of nuggets. Loved it and learned a thing or two as well.

  • Gai Reid says:

    Shannon thank you for this brilliant post and extremely excellent timing! I had a small crisis of confidence this week and I’m so happy to read that travel memoir/narrative is still a valid and loved genre. I am less than a month away from hitting the “publish” button for “Postcards from France”. MERCI

  • Neil Larkins says:

    Thanks, Shannon, for these helpful tips. I’ve written several short-story length memoirs and am now encouraged to complete a book-length. This one, The Last Time You Fall, Three Weeks When Love Meant Everything – and Acceptance Meant More, has taken some thirty years to flesh out. But I’ll finish for sure now.

    • Shannon says:

      Yay Neil! Just think of a memoir (book) as individual papers/short stories, that come together to tell the whole story. When I coach memoir writers, it’s easier for them to think in terms of shorter pieces, rather than the whole book. Good luck–and keep me posted!

      • Neil Larkins says:

        Yes, that’s partly how “Fall” finally came together: short stories and vignettes, both directly and indirectly related, with back story and flashbacks thrown in…because that’s much the way things happen in real life. Only you aren’t aware of it at the time. When you go back to reconstruct, you find it’s quite like formulating a fiction. This story happened when I was in college and met the girl who became my wife. The time was filled with heavy emotion because I also stood at a crossroads. And so did she. So I’ve included her memoir within mine. Tricky, yes, but I believe I’ve pulled it off.

  • MKPhoto&Ink says:

    Thank you. I’m in the middle of writing the memoirs of my sister for the first time so this piece was a great help.

    • Shannon says:

      Hi there! Would love to hear more about your memoir–do you have a theme yet? How exciting for you!

      • April Bartaszewicz says:

        Just finished research for my memoir and I also have all the documents that I need as evidence of truth. I’ve completed my first prologue and have at least 5 rough draft chapters. I’m low income parent. Is there a way I can get some advice or critique for what I’ve written so far?

  • Great advice! As the author of two memoirs, these suggestions are spot on. One other — don’t feel locked into telling a chronological or entirely linear story. Sometimes better told from the middle.

    • Shannon says:

      Hi David. Yes, that is a great tip as well. Some of the best memoirs I have read transport you back and forth across “times”, or start from the end, and then flashback. Thanks for the suggestion!

      • CARLA DAY says:

        I’ve recently completed my memoir and chose to place the segments in chronological order, as there are many smaller chapters. It seems to work better, as it looked a little bit like a patchwork and would have readers scrambling and back-peddling to check on a date etc. It’s all fixed now and is on the final stage. Any tips on approaches as I’m terrified of getting it out there?

        • Hi Carla,
          I work for a personal memoir company who help people record their stories which are then printed into beautiful hardbound books. We also assist with getting a digital version of your book on amazon. Please do get in touch, we would love to help you finalize it!

          • Shelly says:

            I’ve not written yet , But need to write it out. I thank you for your help and look forward to writing my memoirs – to my first and only autobiography. sincerely, Shelly

          • Thelma Nicholls says:

            I sent an email asking for further information.

          • Francisca says:

            After reading the six points, I was inspired by the idea of having a memoir, something I was trying to avoid. I do have a finished manuscript which I had written in third person. The editor I sent it to gave me very candid and painful feedback. I am thinking seriously that he had good points and a memoir as opposed to creative non fiction is the only way that would make sense. I need to know how the professional writer can work with me as I already have a manuscript. Who will be the author of the Book? Thank you.

        • NO tips Carly, but good luckkkkk and congrats!!

    • Marilyn LaRonde says:

      Do you give advice? ideas? My memoir is of an unusual
      friendship that continued over four decades. He was my Bible professor my freshman year. This week someone said I needed to put in tension. As near as I can tell, the tension was all in me.
      To further my dilemma, I am close to approaching 80.
      Consequently, time, my time, is of the essence for me.
      Of course, I’ll understand if you have no interest.
      I’ve written on science topics, since I was not provided
      with appropriate texts–actually with nothing. My favorite topic for reading has been narrative history by
      great authors–consequently dialogue is a challenge for me, but I’m working on it.
      Well, that’s the TMI.
      Thanks for reading this.
      Marilyn LaRonde
      Just in case: 512 248 9488 H

      • Congrats to you on writing your story. I suggest looking at story structure first. The Story Grid is a great way to delve into structure as well as editing. A suggestion not here on the list: Frame your story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Start with dramatizing the inciting incident of the story, what kicks off the story in a big way, the punch to the gut. Complicate the story progressive problems. The challenges get bigger and bigger as the story goes on. Give the story a turning point in which the protagonist (you) have to make a big decision for which there is no turning back. Have the protagonist answer the question in action. And then show the consequences of that decision as the resolution of the story.

        • Rita says:

          Thanks! I knew I should go that route. Now I have to start over again with much excitement! This will be my first memoir. I would love to have any more tips anyone is willing to share. This is something I want to do and feel I need to do. Thanks!

        • Diane Moore says:

          Ummm, Rachel- Wow.

      • Rachel says:

        Hi Marilyn,
        Apologies if this is way off topic and not of interest, but the subject of your memoir made me think of a book I recently heard the co-authors discuss on a podcast. It’s a memoir, about the friendship between a woman and an 80-year-old priest, mostly through letters and emails…. Just thought you might be interested. All the best with your own memoir writing!

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