Tips for Writing Your Memoir

People from all around the world email me each week with a strong desire to write their 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. 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

Sit down and write out the summaries of important events that brought you to where you are today. Just a few lines that communicate 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, zero in on the purpose of the scene. If you can’t identify a purpose, 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

Of course, there are many more, but these give you a few ideas. Now, in contrast, here are some examples of bad purposes, which should be avoided at all costs:

  • I’d really like to get back at so-and-so.
  • I want to brag.
  • I’m angry at the world.

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 self-serving. You have to be honest with yourself here, as there is no fooling your reader. They’ll know.

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.

DISCOVER YOUR THEMES

As 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 you must discover your messages before you can really write a good memoir.

When you sit down to write your chapters, you need to 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. To learn more about pricing, here is an article I wrote a while back.

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

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Should I Fictionalize My Memoir?

cartoon my lifeMost of the ghostwriting requests I get are from people who want to share their life story. They often say, “I’ve been told by many friends that I should write a book!” Sometimes their friends are right, sometimes not, but it’s a good indication if many people are pushing you in that direction.

At some stage in the process a person consider writing a book will decide it’s time to pick up the phone and ask for advice from a professional.

Once a person has decided to write their memoir, one of the first questions they face is, “Should I fictionalize my memoir?”

That’s a good question! And as you might guess, the answer really depends on you and your project.

It’s always more appealing to readers to learn that a story is completely true. People love stepping into the author’s shoes for that brief moment. However, there are reasons why you might not be able to stick to the complete truth.

So, what do you do? Be honest or creative?

Are you in the middle of this internal debate? If so, here are a few reasons why you might choose to fictionalize your memoir:

  1. Bluntly, your story just isn’t interesting enough. I tend to be rather straightforward, so I apologize if I’ve offended you. It’s just that there are stories that are fascinating and others which might make a good short story, or as a fellow ghostwriter and good friend of mine would say, “That sounds like a newspaper article!” If you need to add some content and pizzazz, consider turning your book into a novel that’s just based on your life story.
  2. You’d really like to add in a space ship or two. There are times when you might like to alter history a bit. Most fictionalized memoirs don’t enter the realm of science fiction, but there might be a few tales you wish to add to your story, which never really happened.
  3. Your family would never speak to you again if you aired your dirty laundry. It’s easy to disguise most people’s identities in your book by simply using an alias. It is common to change names, or even just use Dr. Q. instead of Dr. Quincy, to protect the identity of a character. However, your brother is your brother and there is no way to get around that. Your family is more than likely to know whom you’re talking about if you discuss your brother, as they know him just as well as you do.
  4. You’re a stickler for details and it’s all just overwhelming. Most people fudge the facts a bit in a memoir, not worrying if Grand Central Station was truly crowded on Christmas Eve back in 1965. It’s hard to remember such a minor detail and the small handful of people that do probably won’t make a ruckus if you get it wrong. Still, if some of these facts are important to you and you don’t want to worry about getting them all correct, why not turn your memoir into a novel?

Of course, in the end the decision to fictionalize your memoir is up to you. If you have a fascinating story, one that works as is, keep it nonfiction. When you can keep the real timeline in tact and still have a fascinating story, it’s the best course of action.

Still unsure? Feel free to give me a email me if you need a sounding board!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

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Seven Tips For Writing A Great Memoir

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Working With A Ghostwriter – What Steps Should You Take?