Memoir Mistakes You Should Avoid

Avoid crucial memoir mistakes when writing your bookMemoirs are an extremely popular genre with readers because readers love to step into the shoes of another person and learn about their world for a few hours. However, it’s important to understand that readers will put your book down if you fall into certain traps and commit basic memoir mistakes.

If you are new to this genre, your first step should be to really understand what a memoir is and how to structure this kind of book. Really embrace this style of writing and focus on your memoir themes. This will save you a lot of frustration in writing and marketing your book.

What is a memoir?

A memoir is a very personal story, told by the author from his or her viewpoint, which shares a certain period in the author’s life. While it can be confused with an autobiography, it actually has a different feel. An autobiography reads more like a biography but is told from the author’s perspective. It typically commences with the author’s birth and spans through their entire life. This book a bit more clinical in style, whereas a memoir is all about emotion.

Reading memoirs allows us to delve deeply into the lives of people who have done something remarkable in their lives. Perhaps they overcame incredible odds to reach success in some aspect of their life, or they fought an illness and survived, or maybe they lived through an extraordinary moment of history. We can learn so much about others and ourselves through memoirs.

Popular Types of Memoirs

Within the memoir genre there are a host of categories to choose from. Of course, there is bound to be some overlap, but here are a few options to consider when writing your memoir:

Transformational stories

Stories of transformation can be popular memoir themes

As a ghostwriter, these are my favorite memoirs to write. These are the stories where the author has overcome some great obstacle in life and wishes to share the details of his or her redemption or recovery. This can encompass overcoming an illness such as cancer, surviving a traumatic childhood to achieve success as an adult, recovering from an addiction, leaving a country with an oppressive government to flourish in a new place, or the classic rags to riches story, which can take many forms.

Success in business stories

When you talk to most successful entrepreneurs, you’ll discover they faced numerous daunting obstacles as they climbed the ladder to victory. People in power will often tell you that they failed many times before they figured out how to make it. They wish to share the lessons they learned and their triumph with others, and a memoir is a natural vehicle for their story. This type of memoir is also a favorite of mine (and there is often crossover with the transformational memoir).

Travel stories

Some memoirs take the reader on a journey through an exotic land, sharing all the details of that location. These stories usually encompass another theme, so they aren’t only about the new foods the author ate or the striking vistas he or she viewed. Rather, they are usually about a spiritual, emotional, or transformational journey for the author as well.

Memoir Mistakes

After talking to hundreds of first-time authors, I’ve discovered there are some common misconceptions about how to write a memoir. If you’re considering writing your life story, you’ll want to avoid these very basic memoir mistakes. Don’t worry, they are easy to sidestep.

Memoir Mistake Number 1: Focusing on the trivial rather than the big picture

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When you write your memoir, you aren’t recording your life’s trivial events in detail. This is high on the list of memoir mistakes because your readers are not interested in what you ate at each meal or which bus you took to work. Toss most of the trivia and focus on the big picture.

This is fairly easy to do. Before you begin writing your memoir, ask yourself, “What can the reader learn from reading my story?” You might need to dig deep and really mine for the gold that’s there. The lessons you have learned over the years will form the backbone of your book.

It might help to zero in on a theme. This will provide focus. There are a wide variety of great memoir themes to choose from. Here are just a few examples:

  • Hard work pays off
  • Self-pity is a trap
  • A positive outlook helps you attain your goals
  • Change can be a good thing
  • Life is too short not to forgive

When you determine what your book’s theme is, your next step will be to find incidents that illustrate these ideas for your readers. Of course, you wouldn’t want to come out and tell your readers what the theme might be within the pages of your memoir.

Instead, you should show your readers your message through the incidents of your book. Delve into the emotional sacrifices, mistakes and triumphs to share the journey you took. They’ll get the message!

Memoir Mistake Number 2: Covering your entire life rather than focusing on a specific time period

Remember, you’re not writing a school essay or an autobiography. A typical memoir mistake for new authors is to want to start at birth and move forward chronologically. You’re writing a memoir, which will focus on a certain period, one that would fascinate a reader and teach him or her something new about an area of life. It’s a slice of your life, rather than the whole pie.

Now, it’s worth noting that a memoir is usually not written in diary form. Journaling can be a wonderful and beautiful expression of one’s deepest thoughts, but it usually doesn’t translate directly into a book. For one thing, the target reader of a diary is, well, you; a memoir is usually written for others to read. Having said that, one client recently hired me to help her compile her life story into a book that she could then have and read. If you are the sole target reader, you should write your book the way you would like to read it.

If you hire a ghostwriter to write your memoir, keep in mind that diaries always have a strong place in the research of a memoir. Having been a professional ghostwriter for twenty years, I can tell you that a client’s diary is a rich source of color when I write a memoir for a client.

Memoir Mistake Number 3: Not considering the feelings of the real people mentioned in your book

It's a memoir mistake not to consider the feelings of others when writing your book

Memoirs are not a good avenue for retribution for past wrongs done to you. Writing a book for revenge is a sharp-edged weapon which can do permanent damage. Besides being a morally questionable action to take, remember that you can open yourself up to lawsuits.

When you write your memoir, you can’t avoid discussing the lives of the people around you. They will become the main characters in your book. Sure, you can change the attributes a bit—maybe alter the name of the grouchy neighbor or make the schoolteacher a brunette instead of a blond. These minor modifications can go a long way to hide the characters in your book.

However, it will be impossible to completely conceal certain pivotal people in your life. For instance, your parents or siblings will recognize themselves.

The safest approach would be to ask all your friends and relatives who might be in your book how they feel about that. If they agree to be featured in your memoir, take the additional step and ask them to sign a release. You can find examples of a legal release online. If any friend or family member refuses to sign, it might be best to keep them out of your memoir.

The bottom line is that whenever you put something in writing, it becomes permanent. While you might feel fine with airing your family’s dirty laundry today, will you be all right with it two years from now? How about twenty years? To avoid these memoir mistakes, it’s best to write about everyone in a good light now to prevent potential upsets later.

Memoir Mistake Number 4: Writing for every reader rather than focusing on a specific demographic

It is a memoir mistake to write for every reader; pick a demographic.

When I’m working with a first-time author, I’ll ask who the ideal reader might be. Many times a client will say, “all readers.” Writing for “everyone” is high on the list of memoir mistakes because you need to pinpoint a demographic and write to them. The more specific you can get, the better.

  • Consider that you might be at a dinner party. You have a story to share, something amusing that happened to you last year. How would you share that anecdote? I would imagine that you’d tell it differently if you were visiting the White House, seated with dignitaries, than if you were sitting with your bowling buddies or your teenage children. You’d use different vocabulary and your tone would probably change a bit. That’s because you’d want to create the biggest impact with your storytelling; you’d want your audience to receive your communication on a level that they would enjoy.

So when you write, you need to keep your specific type of reader in mind, as if they were in front of you. Of course, even though you’re writing to that reader, that doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy your book. You may accidentally discover a new category of reader as you begin to market and sell your book.


When you write your memoir, it can offer your readers a peek into your soul and universe. They will relish this. Memoirs are an important genre of the literary world. Just avoid the common memoir mistakes and you might just make a difference in someone’s life.

Enjoy the journey!

Check out these additional resources:

Write and Publish Your Book

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Ghostwriter?

Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter


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    Four Phases of Writing Your Book

    writing your bookWhile you embark on the adventure of writing your book for the first time, you might be searching the internet for a magic formula that will enable you to turn your ideas into a completed book. Truthfully, this magic bullet doesn’t exist.

    However, I’d like to break the process down a bit, so that you can manage your time and know what to expect. Whenever I write or ghostwrite a book, I always seem to go through four main phases. Each phase usually takes me a few months.

    Phase One: Researching

    With nonfiction, research is clearly an integral part of the process. When I ghostwrite a memoir, my client is my main source for information, but I also use the internet for supplementary data. After all, I often need to know more about a culture, time period, or group of people.

    When writing fiction, this research can take the form of “world building,” as you are creating the world for your characters. However, I always find myself looking up facts about various real-world incidents to round out a scene.

    Phase Two: Outlining

    If you’re starting out as a writer and have never written a book, I strongly urge you to create a detailed outline before you begin.

    There are many ways to create an outline. The format doesn’t matter as long as it works for you and gives you the major mileposts you’ll hit when traveling your individual path to your book’s completion.

    If you at least sketch out the story first, that outline will save you countless hours and tons of frustration. For me, once the outline is complete the book is written—in my head. Now I just need to put the words on the page.

    Phase Three: Writing the first draft

    In this phase your job is to get the material out of your head and onto the page—one way or the other. Work from your outline, start at the beginning, and just write. Then continue to write and write and write.

    This isn’t the time to edit.

    So many new writers feel embarrassed when they reread their work. Many strive for perfection each step along the way. That’s a mistake. Save editing for the final phase.

    Note: if you have trouble moving forward with your book, go back a step and review your outline. Something there probably needs correcting.

    Phase Four: Editing

    Edit your bookNow that you have your first draft completed, I’d recommend putting the project aside for a bit. How long? Well, that depends on you. The idea is that it should feel fresh to you. I like to give it a few days or even a week.

    When you’re ready, read over your manuscript. If you feel you need to make comments, do so in the margins, but don’t cut pages or chapters. Read it as if you were a reader.

    Next, you’ll need to read it again and again, looking for any problems with continuity, errors in content, flow issues, while making sure your transitions are smooth. Once these are the way you’d like them to be, you can focus on grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.

    If you can, hire a professional editor to read your manuscript. There is nothing like having outside eyes review your work.


    Although writing your book is a time-consuming journey, it’s also highly rewarding. It is my hope that following these four phases of writing a book will make the process a little easier for you.

    If you’re interested in hiring a ghostwriter, please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to help!

    Check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.

    To Be a Writer you Must Write and Write and Write

    Do you want to be a writer? Great! Our world needs more creative folks who are willing to put pen to paper.

    We need you!

    How do you start?

    Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on UnsplashTo be honest and straightforward, you start by writing.

    That might sound too easy, but it is true!

    A writer improves by writing and writing and writing. And then they write some more.

    Through experience, you sort out how to communicate concepts and carve out a story that people want to read.

    Finding your voice

    Every writer eventually finds his or her voice. This is a unique style that sets their written words apart from other authors. Many writers wonder when they will find their voice.

    There’s no word count requirement to finding your voice. It comes down to you and your process. Write as many words as you can!

    If you talk to most professional writers, they’ll tell you that they have written hundreds of thousands or millions of words. They’ll encourage you to keep writing and you’ll get there.

    Please don’t get overwhelmed and give up.

    Just start.


    Log in those words, pages, and stories!

    Deadlines are a must

    Photo by Kevin Ku on UnsplashDeadlines really help motivate me! How about you?

    If you can secure a paying client or a publishing contract, that would be optimal, because it gives you an excellent motivation to complete the project. However, that might not even be your goal! Still, when you’re just starting, it’s beneficial to have a deadline to keep you on track.

    Enter a contest or two. They always have a strict deadline. Be sure to submit something by the due date.

    You can also start a blog. Get a readership going. Make certain to write on your blog each and every week!

    Whatever you decide, give yourself a definite deadline and be firm with it.

    If you behave like a professional writer right out of the gate, you are more likely to complete projects and meet your personal goals.

    Read books in the genre you enjoy

    Great writers always read a lot.

    My advice is to read books you enjoy in the genre in which you wish to write. For instance, if you’re working on a space opera, read a few. If you want to pen your own memoir, read other people’s life stories.

    There’s a reason you enjoy those books. Read them over and over and learn from them. Look at how your favorite authors communicate their ideas. Check out how they handle description, dialogue, action, etc. It can be fun to dissect their methods, and you can pick up useful pointers!

    To be a writer, get advice from writers

    It isn’t a bad idea to get advice from a supportive friend or group—people who are interested in encouraging your writing goals.

    Please don’t seek out critics. They are the ones who will pass along snide comments that make you feel like quitting, often selling those comments as if they were nuggets of gold. Just thank them kindly for their advice and keep writing.

    If you don’t have the time to write, but wish to see your book in people’s hands, hire a ghostwriter. It will still be your book and your ideas.

    However, if you can, write and write and write, and soon you’ll have your book in print for all to read!

    Additional articles you may enjoy:

    How to Conquer Writer’s Block

    How to Writer Three-Dimensional Characters