How to Write Your Memoir

Various people 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 an autobiography 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:

  • It introduces an important character
  • It shows a turning point in some key aspect of your life
  • It demonstrates an error you made
  • It shares 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!

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Laura Sherman (98 Posts)

Laura Sherman, a.k.a. “Laura the Friendly Ghostwriter,” is a professional ghostwriter and author. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction and is happiest when juggling multiple projects. She recently authored “Chess Is Child’s Play” to introduce the next generation to the game of kings and queens. As a parent of three, and one of the top 50 women chess players in the United States, Laura wrote this book to teach any parent to teach any child, of any age, to play chess.