Write a Memoir Readers Will Want to Read

write a memoir the right wayPeople from all around the world email me each week with a strong desire to write a memoir. I love these requests! Memoirs and autobiographies are so important as they record a slice of history. As readers, we can all really benefit from these books in so many ways. After all, when we are given the freedom to step into another’s shoes for a few moments, we often comprehend life a little better. I know I learn a lot by reading a good memoir.

So, how do you go about writing your life story?

First, understand that a memoir isn’t purely a list of chronological events. I was born… then I ate cereal on the 22nd of September…then I… No, I think we can all agree this is boring and would be a memoir mistake. Yes, you will include dates and it’s best not to jump around the time line like a crazed kangaroo on frosted coco sugar squares, but we need to find the right stories to share.

Find your purpose to write a memoir

Find your purpose to write a memoirWhy do you wish to write a memoir?

Yes, this is important. You must know your purpose and then you must communicate that to your readers.

Having been a memoir ghostwriter for over twenty years, I can share a few purposes my clients have shared over the years:

  • “I wish to share my story with the next generation.”
  • “I have important information to impart to my readers.”
  • “I have lived a full, rich life and feel others might enjoy reading about it.”
  • “Through perseverance I have succeeded and I feel others can learn from this story.”

Of course, there are many more, but these give you a few ideas.

Now, in contrast, here are some examples of bad reasons to write a memoir. In my opinion, these purposes should be avoided at all costs:

  • “I’d really like to get back at so-and-so.”
  • “I want to brag about how great I am.”
  • “I’m angry at the world and I want my readers to know it.”

Again, these are just a few examples, but you get the idea.

Your reader will be able to discern your purpose easily, and will throw your book away like a hot potato if they sense your motive is off. You have to be honest with yourself here, as there is no fooling your reader. They’ll know.

Find the purpose of each scene

Now that you have your purpose firmly in mind, it’s time to sit down to the first draft. I suggest that you begin by jotting down the summaries of important events that brought you to where you are today. Just a few lines that communicate the incidents to you. Trace your journey through these key incidents, so that you can lay out the breadcrumbs that others may follow.

As you identify these segments, remember the purpose of the book as well as the scene that you are writing. If you can’t identify a purpose for an incident, toss the scene. Be ruthless about this. Here are a few examples of a good purpose for a scene:

  • Introducing an important character
  • Showing a turning point in some key aspect of your life
  • Demonstrating an error you made
  • Sharing a realization you had

When done correctly, the various incidents will fit together like an intricate puzzle, a beautiful work of kinetic art. They flow seamlessly. One question that will help you determine whether any particular incident should be included is: Does it help move the story forward? Make sure it does.

Uncover your themes

use your senses to write a memoirAs you write the summaries of these scenes down, observe what the emerging themes might be. Consider the lessons you’ve learned, which you wish to impart to your readers. Some examples of powerful and effective messages that I’ve recently seen are:

  • Hard work can overcome many obstacles.
  • Don’t hold on to anger. Forgive.
  • Practical experience is essential for any entrepreneur.
  • Failure is always part of success, if you learn from your mistakes.

It can take time, but through this process you will discover your messages and write a good memoir.

Another tip is that you must always write with honesty. Tap into your emotions and communicate them. Use all your senses to describe what occurred for you in the past. That way your reader will feel what you felt. If you do it correctly, your reader will experience your life as if they had been there alongside you.

Enjoy the process! And if you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

If you’re interested in hiring a ghostwriter, please check out my book Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.

If you liked this article, here are a few additional ones you might find helpful:

My Ghostwriting Process

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Great Memoir Themes

8 Tips For Writing Your Memoir

Writing your memoir takes timeIf you’re contemplating writing your memoir, you should understand that it won’t always be an easy task. Most likely there will be a lot of emotion behind many of the events that have shaped your life story. Collecting these incidents together for your readers will take strength, time, and patience. Knowing this upfront will help you plan and complete your book.

Many people have reached out to me over the last two decades asking advice about how to write their life story. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Writing your memoir takes time

Writing a book isn’t an overnight undertaking. For a professional writer, I’d estimate it will take two hundred hours to complete. If you’re new to the process, plan for it to take longer.

It’s important not to rush the process. Even if you have plenty of time, give yourself some breathing room.

Eight months to a year is a good timeframe for completing a book. Set daily targets and hold yourself accountable to making them. Your memoir will be the better for it.

Character flaws are key

Even if you have lived the life of a hero, you will need to take a step back and look for a few non-optimum personality traits to share.

The reason for this is that the rest of us, your readers who have flaws, will never be able to relate to the story of a perfect superhero. Include the mistakes you’ve made in your life when writing your memoir. Find a few lapses in judgment and delve into them. Anecdotes showing how you overcame barriers and errors will enhance your book.

Humor goes a long way

When an author can poke fun at his or her situation and enliven a story by bringing out its comical aspect, it makes for a more enjoyable and memorable read. While it is best not to make fun of others in your book, there are still plenty of other ways to include humor.

For instance, funny dialogue snippets lighten the mood nicely. There might also be times when you can uncover an absurd moment then expand on it. Don’t be afraid to shine a spotlight on certain aspects of your life that might make others laugh out loud.

Write and write and write

If you’re writing your memoir on your own, you’ll need to write on a regular basis.

Don’t expect to make much progress if you only type a few pages on the weekends. Great writers write every day. It keeps ideas flowing and the creative pump primed.

Feel free to embellish the details

No one expects you to remember every single little detail of your life perfectly.

For example, can you recall what you had for breakfast on October 20th, 1974? If you’re writing a breakfast scene and want to put Eggs Benedict on the table, go ahead. Your readers will accept it.

The situation is similar with dialogue. If you are writing about an important conversation, your readers don’t care about the exact words spoken. They just want to know the gist of the conversation.

The truth is, even if you have a photographic memory, you will want to change up the words a bit to improve the flow of the story. However, never invent fictitious and unflattering words for a real person you’re mentioning by name. He or she might not appreciate your creativity.

Be honest

Write without fear. Edit without mercy.Although you’re delving into the viewpoint of one character, you, you need to have the ability to pull back from your perspective.

Be objective.

This might mean that you don’t come out the winner in every argument. And, please don’t resent me for saying so, but you might turn out to be wrong on occasion. It happens! Remember, flawless characters aren’t very believable.

One of my biggest tips for writing a memoir is to be truthful with your readers. It’s possible that they might learn a lesson and avoid making the same mistakes you did. Wouldn’t it be good to know that your book changed the life of just one person?

Read other memoirs

Girl reading a memoirI read a quote today that I loved. It said:

“Reading and writing cannot be separated. Reading is breathing in. Writing is breathing out.” (I wish I knew who wrote it.)

Writing a memoir is difficult if you’ve never read one by another writer. Reading a lot will help you learn about what works and what doesn’t.

You can also learn to spot the memoir themes, which might give you ideas for your book’s theme.

With these tips for writing a memoir, you are ready. Now start writing. Continue to write. Then write some more until your first draft is completed.

Don’t edit, just write.

Enjoy the experience.

Personally, I love ghostwriting memoirs because I get to meet new people and help them share their life stories with others. While doing so, they usually remember new details about their lives that they’d forgotten for decades. And, in the end, they always learn a lot, as do their readers. The process is so rewarding!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Interview Questions for a Ghostwriter

How to Write a Business Book

What to Expect In an Interview with a Ghostwriter

Understanding Characters

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Memoir Mistakes You Should Avoid

 

How To Write An Autobiography

Girl thinking about writing her autobiographySome people want to write an autobiography to simply share their stories with their family. They don’t seek a broad audience, but desire to see their experiences recorded so that they last for centuries to come.

Other authors wish to engage a broader audience. Those authors usually feel strongly that they have life lessons to share with the world and they dream of a readership.

Both goals are valid and important. As a ghostwriter it is my job to carry out your purposes and objective.

If you’re working on tackling how to write an autobiography, you have already overcome the first barrier of deciding whether or not to share your personal story with others. You know it’s worth telling.

Now that you’ve decided, where do you start?

Here are some tips to help you get going:

Consider writing a memoir instead

An autobiography tends to be a bit clinical in its approach. For one thing, you have the burden of starting with the beginning of your life and moving forward through your entire existence.

When writing a memoir, you have the luxury of selecting a segment of your life. You can cover only the exciting part, like when you overcame a particularly gnarly hurdle or triumphed over near-impossible odds. You can select your memoir’s theme!

Most readers agree that a memoir is usually a better choice, because it’s more personal and reads more like a novel.

Read a lot of memoirs or autobiographies

If you wish to write a memoir or autobiography, you would learn a lot by reading the autobiography or memoir of someone you admire. Pick a hero you adore and read up on them. Most celebrities have written a few books (or hired a ghostwriter to do so for them). Reading these personal accounts will help you figure out how to structure your book.

It’s a good idea to read each book twice. Read it the first time for pleasure, then read it a second time to thoroughly review how the author communicated her thoughts to you. Could you really empathize with what she went through in the story? If so, analyze how the author achieved her goal.

Research your own life

Researching life storyTo be complete and accurate, your book must cover more than what you can remember. You will need to become a bit of a detective and delve into your family’s history! Take the time to interview family members and ask probing questions to uncover details.

Here are some areas you might look into:

  • Events leading up to your birth and your birth story.
  • The environment and circumstances of your family (and the world around you) when you were a child.
  • The background of your parents and grandparents.
  • Difficulties your family overcame to bring you where you are today.

As you interview various people, you are bound to discover information you never knew before. You just might make interesting connections about why you are the way you are.

Digging into the past has a way of jogging  memories loose and bringing more data to the surface. Be ready to follow any new direction and ask a lot of follow up questions.

Organize and outline

Once you have all the information gathered, make a timeline of your memories so you have them organized by date.

Then make an outline based on the individual incidents from your timeline. Determine where you want your story to start. If you decide to stick with an autobiography, you’ll need to cover your entire life chronologically. If you opt to write a memoir, you’ll want to focus on a key period from your timeline.

Identify your theme or message.

Every story needs a good strong message. You need a memoir theme.

What is it that you want your reader to learn? What should they walk away with after reading your book?

Maybe your theme revolves around resisting corruption. Or perhaps you overcame a handicap. If you persisted through an obstacle to achieve a goal, that often makes for a good theme.

These themes might not be apparent when you first embark on your writing adventure. Through your research and organization, good themes should pop out—and what they are may surprise you.

If you need a little help, please email me. Finding the primary themes of a story is one of my fortes.

Start writing

This step can be one of the hardest, particularly if you don’t have much writing experience. My advice is to just start writing!

Even if you don’t love the way it sounds, even if you feel like it’s no good at all, just get words down on paper. Don’t ever let perfectionism stop you. Remember that before you publish, you’ll edit; that’s how the writing process works. However, if you never get anything down in the first place, it’s awfully hard to edit!

So, my advice is always, “Write, right now!”

Ask for help when needed

Ask for help when writing a bookWhether you are a novice writer or an experienced professional, writing your life story can be difficult because it’s so close to your heart. Some segments might be painful to recall and write.

If you need help, ask for it.

Consult a friend, an editor, or a writing coach to give you a fresh viewpoint and get you through those sticky spots when you run out of ideas entirely. I sometimes coach writers at an hourly rate. It can help you push through writer’s block.

If you can’t write an autobiography, hire a ghostwriter

Have you been trying to write an autobiography or memoir for nearly a decade and haven’t gotten very far? You aren’t alone. Writing your life story can be challenging.

Hire a ghostwriter. Professional writers are well trained in storytelling and research. Their level of assistance can range from minor help with re-writes and research to doing all the writing themselves under your name.

You will always keep the rights to your story.

If you’re not an experienced writer, hiring a ghost is the best solution.

As you embark on this new adventure of writing your autobiography or memoir, enjoy the process! And remember—Write, right now!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Do you need help writing a book?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Should you hire a local ghostwriter?

Working with a Ghostwriter – What steps should you take?

Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter