Writing a Memoir: Know Your Story

When writing a memoir, it’s important to stick to one subject and one time period, then really focus on that. Know your story! If your book is too general, it won’t make for a good read.

A good friend, who attends many writer’s conferences, teeming with agents and publishers, recently told me, “If a writer goes into a pitch with: ‘Hey, my book is about my life in the field of education,’ the agent is going to glaze over and start thinking about the conference lunch buffet. It’s way too general. No, it’s better to state the book’s focus upfront.”

So true! I would also add that you should know the purpose of your story. After all, that will help you focus and know your story.

Know your story

The first step when writing a memoir is to decide what you’re writing about. In the example above, perhaps you are a high-school teacher in the inner city and you’re writing to encourage parents to be more active with their child’s education. If that’s your purpose, tell that story. It’s specific, not general.

If your own educational path helps to illustrate your book’s purpose, by all means share it. You can do so with flashbacks or by starting the book at that period, if there is enough material to carry the story forward. Otherwise, skip it. For example, if you had supportive parents and went to expensive prep schools and Harvard, it just might not fit into this book (about working with inner city kids).

It would probably make more sense to open your memoir with a particular high school class and finish with their graduation. Include various gnarly parent teacher conference meetings that show what you wish to demonstrate and conclude with a result, one way or another.

Pick a lane and stick to it.

Define your reader

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

In the above example, your reader would probably be parents of high school students. Perhaps yours is a cautionary tale, warning parents of the dangers of leaving their children’s education solely in the hands of the school system. If that’s the case your book might span two decades, showing your breadth of experience and many examples of neglect with final resolutions that all exemplify the problem.

Or maybe you want to show how one parent got it right. Perhaps that one child made it out of the ghetto and into the sunlight. In that case, your story might just span one year, showing how that mom and dad took a strong interest in little Johnny’s education, while other parents failed to do so, and their children floundered.

Now, your reader might be the school administrative staff. If that is the case, your book would have a very different feel! Is this a David vs Goliath theme, concluding with your victorious battle to make improvements within the school system? The point might be to help others forge an improvement in a system that can seem impossible to penetrate.

We just discussed three versions of one life story. You see how these three books would be very different. It’s the same life, told through different lenses. Each story would be shared with your voice but would make the reader feel and experience very different things.

Pick your reader and write to them.

If you’re writing a memoir, remember that this is your life! You get to tell the story you wish to tell. You probably have a few books within you. Select one and start writing! And if you need help, please contact me.

If you have any questions regarding pricing, please check out my article about how much ghostwriters charge.

If you’d like to read more articles about memoirs, please check these out:

Memoir or Autobiography

How to Write Your Memoir

What are Good Memoir Themes?