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

Family History Books Are Valuable

Record your family historyMany people desire to record their family’s history. If you feel strongly about this, I recommend that you appoint someone to be the family historian. That person must record the stories of the individual family members and relay them to the future generations so they can learn and grow from the experiences of their ancestors. We all benefit from our family history.

When we uncover how our family struggled through hardships to get where they are today, when we really understand their viewpoints, it often answers questions we’ve asked ourselves about them, such as why grandpa responds the way he does or what makes Great Aunt Trudy hold onto certain idiosyncrasies. In addition, this knowledge can also explain our roles in our family and community.

There are many different ways you can preserve family memories. If you have zillions of photographs, perhaps a scrapbook format would work. Some people build and bury a time capsule. Others gather all the recipes handed down through the generations and create a cookbook.

Now, if your family’s story is an action-packed adventure tale, a book is the only way to truly do it justice. I know that writing a book can be quite an undertaking, but it is the surest way to immortalize your family story for the millennia to come. And this is where I come in. When you need help to write your family history in book form, call on me, your friendly ghostwriter.

Here are some tips to you get started.

How to format a family history book

If you’ve decided to write your family history, you might not know where to begin. After all, you have generations of memories and anecdotes to choose from. The first step will be to determine the focus of the book.

Will it center around one ancestor sharing his or her story?

Or will it detail a single event that influenced the course of the entire family?

Or perhaps you want to share multiple viewpoints of a generation that set the stage for the present-day condition of your family.

Once you decide on the focus, the next decision is easier: the type of book to write. No matter which focus you choose, there are really only two main formats open to you:

    • Memoir
    • Narrative

Memoir format

Family history in a memoir formatIf the story highlights one individual sharing an exciting adventure from the annals of her past, you’ll want to choose a memoir format. While other important people will be featured in your book, the story will be told through that one family member’s eyes. It will give the reader insight into her unique viewpoint.

I must say, by far the most common request I receive is to write a memoir. Each book is so different, because each client has his or her own voice, message, and purpose for writing their book.

For instance, one book I wrote a couple of years ago featured a young Jewish girl who needed to separate from her family in Europe and pretend to be a devout Catholic to escape the Nazis. Although the experiences of her brothers and sisters are shared throughout the book, they were told through the eyes of the preteen.

Tip: If you write a book in a memoir format, it will need to be written in the first person. This means that the main character will need to be present in each scene. After all, she couldn’t have experienced the incident if she wasn’t there.

Narrative format

If your family story is more of an ensemble piece, with many different people all playing an equal role, I’d suggest you stick with a narrative format. That way you can pick and choose the stories and people to focus on.

For example, I wrote a story for an author who escaped communist Hungary on foot with his family. Since he was a toddler at the time of the Hungarian Revolution, it didn’t make sense to write it as a memoir. Instead, the story revolved around his parents and older sister, but included him throughout.

Tip: When using a narrative format, you’ll write the book in the third person. Since you’ve chosen this format because you have multiple stories to tell, I’d recommend a multiple third person limited viewpoint (where you alternate between the viewpoints of different characters from segment to segment).

The goals of a family history book

If you find you need help and approach me to write your family history, I will start by giving you an introductory interview. One of my first tasks will be to get your true motivation behind the book project so that I can help you achieve your goals. After all, when I can truly understand my clients’ goals, their objectives become mine and we are able to form a writing team.

Over the years, clients who approach me to write their family’s story, have two main purposes in mind:

      • To share their story with readers around the world
      • To write a book so their children’s children will know what happened

 

write your family history for the future generationsI’ve worked with both goals and love to help families record their history. I am so grateful when I’m allowed into a client’s inner circle to learn their secrets and stories and get to record them for future generations—children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It is an honor to become a family’s historian. It’s an important role, one that I cherish.

It might surprise you to learn that some clients hire me and have no intention of ever publishing their book. For instance, you might ask me to write your family history simply because you are afraid that your ancestors’ memories and the lessons they learned will get lost over time, especially after they pass on. Perhaps you want your future family members to never forget the events of the past.

This is a valid concern.

One advantage of working with a ghostwriter to write your family history is that you leave the door open to publishing the book, if you choose to do so at a later time. After all, goals and purposes can change. When you work with a professional writer, you can be certain that you’ll wind up with a marketable manuscript which follows all the rules of literature.

Appoint a family historian

I would be honored if you considered hiring me to be your family historian. However, I recognize that not everyone can afford the fee. In that case, I recommend appointing a family member to write your family history and become your family historian.

Find someone who is eager to embrace the events of the past. She will need to be patient and willing to wade through records and documents and be able to organize all the information. In addition, she should be an excellent communicator, who is willing to interview every family member and dig deep to uncover all the pertinent facts and memories.

Here are a couple tips to help your family historian write your book:

Tip #1: Capture a person’s exact words

It is important that you capture each person’s exact words. After all, each member of your family will have a different way of expressing himself. Jot down any idioms the family member might use.

Never correct his or her grammar. You aren’t a seventh grade English teacher. If Grandpa says, “ain’t,” keep it that way. It’s real and it’s part of what makes him Grandpa, right? Keeping his dialogue intact will allow future generations a better sense of who he was. Record exactly what each person says as they say it.

In addition, make a note of their mannerisms so you can use these when you describe your family members in your book.

Tip #2: Collect more information than you’ll use

Collecting information for your bookWhen you write your book, plan to collect twice the material than you think you’ll use. It’s a bit like carving a work of art from stone. You need to start with a huge block of marble. Then you chip away at it until you uncover your sculpture within. With a book, you’ll need pages and pages of notes detailing adventures, challenges, life lessons, observations and the like. Within these pages you will find the golden nuggets that will help you write your family history.

Tip #3: Be open to learning new things about your family

While on this journey you will likely discover that your elders have lived through some amazing times. Some children have no idea what adventurous lives their ancestors have lived, or the hardships they endured. Perhaps your great uncle was a flying ace who engaged in dog fights during World War I. Or, it’s possible that you never knew that your grandmother escaped a brutal dictator on foot with her valuables sewn into her skirt. Or maybe various family members traveled to a variety of exotic locations and never told you. Whatever the case, you’re bound to learn a lot about your family members when you write your family history. Ask questions and be willing to take the book in new directions.

Tip #4: Select your theme

As with any memoir or story, your book will need to have one or more main themes. The theme you choose depends on the message you wish to communicate. There is no right or wrong answer here.

A few powerful themes you might consider are:

    • Drive and determination can overcome obstacles
    • Families can come in many shapes and sizes
    • Sometimes the only way to survive is to fight back
    • Be grateful for everything you have in life
    • Never give up, no matter how painful the odds and opposition might be

Tip #5: Use your senses

Now that you’ve determined the theme for your book, you will probably find yourself approaching it from multiple angles. Not only will you have a variety of viewpoints to share, but through the multi-generational events, you can show your theme using all the senses and perceptions available to each character.

For instance, I wrote the memoir of a man who grew up in a small one-room hovel without running water and electricity before achieving great wealth. To this day, he remains humble and is grateful for the simple pleasures of that early lifestyle, as well as the loving upbringing his parents provided. Together, he and I brought the conditions to life by not only describing the vistas but giving texture to the mud walls and sharing the tastes of his mother’s simple, but delicious cooking. Later, when his mother and father visited his mansion in California, the readers experienced the contrasting luxury along with his parents.

Note: The theme of gratitude was consistent throughout the book.

 

So, when should you start?

Now!

I mean it!

Time isn’t always on your side, especially if members of your family are getting on in years. So now is the perfect opportunity to talk with them. Go for it! And have fun!

If you need help, feel free to contact me. I’d love to help you write your family history! Check out a few of my testimonials.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Is It Charged?

How Can You Research a Memoir?

Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter

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    Memoir or Autobiography or Biography?

    autobiography or biography

    Many people have something worthwhile to write. Their hard-won life lessons and perseverance can both inspire and instruct others. And let’s face it, their lives just make for an interesting read! If this describes your life, it might be time to consider writing a book to capture your personal story. Should you write a memoir, an autobiography, or a biography?

    If you’re reading this and you’ve been fortunate enough (and skilled enough) to have climbed out of a gnarly hole and succeed in life, you really owe it to the world to share your story one way or another. People really need to hear about your journey and understand the steps you took to make it.

    How do you tell this story? Well, you have a few choices. There are three basic genres for such a project: biography, autobiography and memoir.

    An Autobiography or a Biography

    We have all seen the biography or autobiography section in a library. These works are somewhat formal efforts to document the lives of notable people. These books proceed in a linear and orderly fashion through the life of the subject, cataloging their existence for the reader. It’s extremely accurate and factual.

    If that description sounds a bit dry, that’s because the end product often is. After all, how many of us relished reading the biography or autobiography of a famous person in school? That’s probably the last one you read, right?

    Still, there are times when this medium is correct. When a formal accounting of someone’s life needs to be understood, reach for a biography or autobiography. Get the facts and learn about that person.

    A Memoir

    A memoir or an autobiography or a biographyA memoir reads more like a novel, written in the first person. It rarely starts with “I was born in New Haven, CT,” but rather sets you at the precipice of a key moment of the author’s life then carries you forward through a segment of the person’s life. You feel the emotions of the author, experience what they experience in a very realistic way.

    Memoirs tend to be less formal than an autobiography or biography. Creative license can be exercised with caution. The dialogue you read is never completely accurate but is more of a best guess by the author. The story is still true, but certain elements are often embellished for the sake of the tale.

    In addition, a memoir can document a specific event, focusing on the short term, rather than the entire life of the person. For instance, a famous band might focus a memoir around a specific tour or the recording of an album.

    A good memoir strives to capture the voice of the author with authenticity. This helps the reader slip into the shoes of the subject, making it easier to live the life they lived for a few hours.

    Which Is Best for You?

    A person lives one moment after the next, in linear fashion, to be sure, but is that the best way to present the story? Perhaps. And should one include every detail, simply because it happened? Most likely there were a few moments of that life that were crucial, which might illuminate what made that person who they are today. And then there are mundane incidents that no reader needs to hear.

    Most often I recommend that my clients write their memoirs rather than their autobiographies. It’s more popular and more riveting for the reader. However, there are times when a biography or autobiography is a better choice. It comes down to preference.

    What are your thoughts? Which do you prefer to read?

    If you wish to hire a ghostwriter and need a little help with the process, please check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.

    Your Memoir: Building Character and Your Written Voice

    Create your unique written voice

    When I begin working with you as a client, one of my first priorities will be to develop your written voice early on. It’s important to know that the voice you select will need to be consistent throughout every single piece of published writing. In other words, your first book needs to match your second, which also needs to match your blog and any guest posts.

    Finding your inner voice

    While your written voice will be different from your spoken one, there is definitely a lot of overlap. Your written voice could be better dubbed your inner voice. Like a fingerprint, yours will be different from others.

    For starters, you might have unique ways of speaking that can help to identify your voice. As we work together, I’ll be hunting for these clues. It’s my job to select a few of these characteristics and sprinkle them throughout your book. Having said that, I’ll always protect your reputation and brand; I won’t include anything you’d prefer left off the page. And we’ll leave the “ums” and “ers” out, of course.

    You’re such a character

    You have a special written voice

    It might surprise you to learn that you’ll become the central character of your memoir. That means you and I will need to follow the rules of writing and apply them to each person that we write about in your story. Sure, you are you, but in your book, your character will take on a life of its own.

    As I perfect your voice, I will also be working on the voices of all the other main dramatis personae of your book (aka your friends, family, colleagues, etc.). It will help me if you can jot down some sample conversations you’ve had with others. Let me see how you interact with the people in your life.

    Keep in mind that we will need to create plausible dialogue and embellish things a bit. Don’t worry, your readers don’t expect you to recall exactly what you said ten years ago. Instead, they want a good story. For that reason, they will give you a little creative license.

    Mind your mannerisms

    We all have them. Do you twirl your hair around your pencil or stroke an imaginary beard? Maybe you slap your hands against your thighs for emphasis when you speak. Including these little habits in your memoir helps lend authenticity to your character. If you have trouble spotting them, ask friends and family for their observations. Then notice their traits.

    In addition, it’s good to examine the way the important people around you look at the world, how they communicate to others without words, their general mood, and anything else that makes them unique. Sharing these allows me to enrich their characters within your book.

    When I’m working on a story (fiction or nonfiction), I create complete bios for the main characters. I’ll need your help to create these for your memoir. For instance, it really helps to know the month and year in which all the main players were born. This helps me track with their ages throughout the story.

    It also helps to know eye color, height, weight, hair style, etc. so I don’t give your husband a buzz cut when he has a ponytail or man bun. How do they dress? Are they always in a tie and consider a polo shirt casual dress? Or perhaps that polo shirt is the only formal item in their closet.

    If you’re considering working with a ghostwriter for your memoir, and want to take a preliminary step, start building character profiles for yourself and everyone who will appear in your book. It will be such an asset to me (or whomever you hire). When we start working together, I can give you more complete instructions for helping me collect all this information, and more. Just contact me to get started!

    If you’re interested in writing a memoir, you might enjoy reading these articles:

    Tips for Finding Memoir Themes

    How Can You Research a Memoir?

    Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter

    Help! Help! I Need Help Writing a Book!

    Write Your Family History

    Memoir Mistakes You Should Avoid

    Should I Hire A Ghostwriter to Help Me Write My Book?

    Should I hire a ghostwriter?Are you searching the web asking yourself, “Should I hire a ghostwriter to help me write my book?”

    You’re not alone.

    I can tell you, it isn’t always the right decision.

    “Wow, did she just say that?”

    I know, it’s strange to hear that from a professional writer trying to earn a living, right? I may be looking for my next client, but I like to be honest. Not everyone who writes me for help actually needs a ghostwriter. Sometimes it’s best to write the book yourself and sometimes the book shouldn’t be written.

    Making a decision

    To determine whether or not you need a ghostwriter, here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

    • Am I able to write the book on my own?
    • Do I have the budget to hire a professional writer?
    • What are my goals for my book?

    If you have the ability to write the book on your own, and you have the time to do so, that’s probably what you should do. However, you will need to budget money for a few good editors. Your book might need a major overhaul, especially if it is your first one. Not to worry—that’s normal.

    Having acknowledged that some of my clients could write a book on their own, why would they hire me? Because they just don’t have the time to do so. They’re too busy being successful in their chosen field.

    Budgeting for a ghostwriter

    Discover your budget to hire a ghostwriterIf you know you need to hire a writer, you must budget $50,000 – $75,000 for the project. Do not expect a professional writer to work for a “share of the profits.” This isn’t realistic. Professional writers need to be paid upfront for their work. You can offer to give them a percentage of the profits from the sales as an added bonus. This is a wise plan, as the writer will be more invested and might help you with marketing and sales if they are profiting on the back end.

    It is important to determine your goals for your book project before you start. If you want a bestselling book, you will need to invest in a bestselling author. If you want to create a little 99 cent eBook, you won’t need to spend as much on the ghostwriter.

    Remember, you get what you pay for—even with a writer.

    Recouping your investment

    For many authors, spending $50,000 on a book makes sense because their professional reputation is on the line. Ask yourself, will my business expand if I publish my book? If each sale you make has a hefty price tag attached, it will be easy for you to recoup your investment in a good, professional ghostwriter.

    After all, if your goal is to have a professional book with your name on it, you need to build your brand’s reputation in the right direction!

    When you’re asking yourself, “Should I hire a ghostwriter to help me write my book?” you need to evaluate your goals and resources. Please feel free to email me anytime if you’d like help weighing your options!

    Check out Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter for more detailed information.

     

    How to Find a Theme for Your Memoir

    Find a theme for your memoirWhen most people sit down to write their life stories, they often don’t consider various literary elements. After all, isn’t the book just going to be a series of events that happened in real life? While that’s true, you still need to follow the rules of writing. You must find a theme for your memoir. This theme is the fundamental idea that ties your story together.

    Over the years, I’ve discovered several approaches that might help you find your theme:

    Look for obstacles you have overcome

    Overcoming obstacles to win against all odds is a favorite theme in books and film. Most memoirs involve a triumphant victory over a major life hurdle. This makes for a great theme because the readers can root for you while identifying with the theme as it relates to their own life.

    Perhaps you battled a major illness and came out the other side healthy, or maybe you had a particularly challenging childhood and found success through forgiveness. Through sharing your experiences and achievements, you can inspire others to take action and make changes in their lives for the better.

    Find lessons you’ve learned

    Your readers might identify with the life lessons you have learned along the road to success. As you write your memoir, you’ll probably reveal a few personal imperfections along the way. If these flaws resolve as your story unfolds, these could become a powerful theme for your memoir.

    For instance, one client of mine realized she’d been a little too trusting of unsavory characters and learned to stand on her own two feet by the end of her book. Other themes that might come from life lessons could include realizing that complacency won’t help you achieve your goals or that sometimes you need to face evil head-on to survive.

    Summarize your story in a few lines

    Ask what is the story about to find your memoir themeA writing mentor once advised me to answer the question What is my story about? before beginning the outlining phase. This direction was incredibly helpful to me as a budding writer because it pointed me in the direction of a good theme for my book.

    This question should always be answered in a few lines, like an elevator pitch. Keep it short and sweet. From this, you can often glean your theme. For instance, if your pitch is about how you managed to escape a suppressive government, your theme might be how perseverance overcomes all odds.

    I find that when I drill down to the core of the meaning of the book, I can find a theme easily.

    Ask for help

    If you’re too close to the story, it can be hard to pick out the theme on your own. In that case, you might try sharing your history with others and get their feedback. Getting that outside perspective can be invaluable to finding the unifying idea.

    In addition, you might discover a few truths that you hadn’t uncovered before. I remember working with an elderly client who had become a successful entrepreneur. After a few in-depth interviews with me, he realized that the teacher he’d idolized as a child was, in fact, a serpent in disguise, denigrating and abusing his students. As we continued to talk, we discovered other destructive people who had caused him difficulties throughout his life. These conversations brought out a powerful theme for his memoir.

     

    Finding a theme for your memoir doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply look for the universal ideas and takeaways you want you reader to receive. Once you have a theme for your memoir, you might just find that the words flow effortlessly as you share your life story with your readers.

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

    How to Work with a Ghostwriter

    Work with a ghostwriter to produce a best sellerYou’ve decided to hire a ghostwriter. Great! Now, you’re probably wondering what steps you can take to prepare for the process ahead of you. Although I always recommend that you take these starting steps once you have hired your writer, I know that some of you might be eager to begin now. I understand that desire. Prepared notes can be helpful when you do begin to work with a ghostwriter.

    Organize your written material

    If this is a project you’ve had in mind for years, your notes might be all over the place. Perhaps you have diary pages, recipes from Grandmother Tilly, newspaper clippings from your childhood, and many more valuable items tucked away in the corners of your home or laptop.

    Usually people have a mixture of hard copies and computer files. As a first step, decide which format you prefer and put all the documents in one place. It will be easier to send them to your ghostwriter that way.

    Photographs are always very helpful when writing a memoir. Collect them all and scan them onto your hard drive so it will be easy to email them to your writer. It goes without saying that you should never mail the original photographs to anyone.

    Create a list of incidents

    If you’re writing a novel or penning a memoir, it helps to create a master list of events that will appear in your book. Don’t go into details, but rather just give each incident a title, such as “My fifth birthday party.” As you make your list, don’t edit. Just keep adding to it.

    Keep in mind that some experiences can be broken into smaller incidents. For instance, a person’s wedding isn’t usually a singular event. You might break it down further into the rehearsal dinner, the bachelorette party, getting ready for the ceremony, the ceremony, and many more parts.

    When you’re breaking down your story into its parts, consider all the separate incidents that will help you accurately tell your story. Then, when you begin to work with a ghostwriter, this help as she begins to outline your book.

    Create a cast of characters

    work with a ghostwriter to create compelling charactersWhen writing a memoir or novel, you’ll have a number of characters in your book. To help create three-dimensional personalities, it helps to write short biographies for each. Describe what they look like, what they enjoy doing, their vocation, etc.

    For your memoir you’ll write down the existing personalities for the people in your life. For your novel, each main character should follow a captivating path of growth or decline throughout the story. In a lot of the stories that I tell there is a positive change, where the protagonist transforms throughout the book. Sometimes he or she will become a hero by the end. Conversely, some novels portray a negative transformation, where the character goes from being good to being evil.

    Consider each character and work to build his or her personality the way you wish it to develop. It’s fun! You get to stock your book with people you create.

     

    If you’re anything like me, you’re probably chomping at the bit to do something to forward your dream of writing a book. I get it. These are a few things you can do to prepare to work with a ghostwriter. Enjoy the process!

    If you’d like some tips about how to hire a ghostwriter, please check out: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.