Ask a Ghostwriter: Organizing and Outlining a Memoir

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I want to write my life story. I’ve been working on my memoir for seven years, but haven’t made much progress. I know what I want to write about, but I can’t seem to get my thoughts on paper. Help! – Emma V.

Dear Emma V.,

Honestly, I think the problem might be simpler than you think. Consider outlining your memoir. Working from a jumbled mess of notes can be daunting for many.

Now, some writers feel that outlining takes all the joy out of the process. One friend once told me, “If I were to outline the entire book, what would be the point in writing it? I know exactly what will happen!” Although I understood what he meant, I couldn’t disagree more.

Outlining saves time

As a writer, I enjoy creating the mile markers first and then filling in the details. I prefer knowing where I’m starting and where I’m going. It puts me in the driver’s seat.

Before I commit to days of writing, I want to know where I’m heading. I mean, if wrote thousands of words, which veered off a cliff, I’d have to toss it. That is frustrating to anyone.

Bottom line, if you’re stuck and unable to write, please consider writing a good, strong, detailed outline.

Outlining a memoir

If you’re writing a memoir (or fiction), tackle each individual incident. It’s important to work out:

  • Who is in the scene
  • Where it takes place
  • When it happened
  • What happened (briefly)
  • What is the purpose of the scene.

The last point is the most important aspect for this exercise by far. After all, if the scene has no purpose, you shouldn’t waste your time writing it. It will just land on the editing room floor at the end of the project.

Your outline should be purpose driven. Every scene must propel your story forward. Each incident must have a reason for being there, something that fits in with the flow of the book.

Outlining a how-to book

If you’re writing a how-to book, your outline will be very different. I’d suggest that you create a table of contents, with bullet points for subheads. I often write a little paragraph describing the proposed text under each segment.

I’d love to hear from fellow writers. What do you think? Do you use an outline? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Easy Tips For Writing Your Book

Do You Want To Write A Book About Your Life?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

How To Write A Nonfiction Book

Laura Sherman (121 Posts)

Laura Sherman, a.k.a. “Laura the Friendly Ghostwriter,” is a professional ghostwriter and author. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction and is happiest when juggling multiple projects. She recently authored “Chess Is Child’s Play” to introduce the next generation to the game of kings and queens. As a parent of three, and one of the top 50 women chess players in the United States, Laura wrote this book to teach any parent to teach any child, of any age, to play chess.