How Do I Write a Memoir?

Memoirs are written for various reasons — some people find themselves near the end of their lives and want to put their experiences down on paper. Still others have gone through an amazing or unique experience and want to share it with others. Whatever the reason, writing a memoir is the perfect way to memorialize a life.

Sitting down to write a memoir can be a daunting task at first. However, with a little bit of guidance and by taking a few simple steps, you can create an interesting record of your life that your friends and family (and maybe an even wider audience) will enjoy for years and years.

Five Steps To Writing A Memoir

To help you out we’ve put together the following five steps to writing a memoir.

Step 1 – Decide On Your Audience

If you’re writing the memoir for yourself, throw the rulebook out the window. If you are the only person you’re writing for, you can write in any style you want, include any material, and even make up fun facts along the way. However, most people find they will want to share their memoir with others. Deciding on your audience is the most important step of memoir writing. You need to decide who your target audience for the book is going to be. You could decide to write it for your family and close friends, in which case you can stick with an informal and more intimate writing style. However, if you plan to release your memoir to a general audience then you’ll need to develop a more professional writing style, and consider delivering more action into your writing. Don’t take this too far — think of the many “memoirs” that have been written over the past few years only to be exposed as frauds — A Million Little Pieces by James Frey comes to mind. If you decide to sell your memoir as fact rather than fiction, don’t embellish too much. And if you’re planning on sharing this material with people who actually know you, they’ll be able to tell the fact from the fiction anyway.

Step 2 – Decide On Your “Story”

how-write-memoirWhen learning how to write your memoir, you need to remember that it isn’t necessary to expose every minute detail of your life. No one wants to read about Abraham Lincoln’s dentist visits — but his speeches, his major political moves, and even his love life are interesting facts. Consider picking events from your life that are exciting and focus on these. If you’ve had a major experience that had a profound impact on the way that you live, you could focus your entire memoir around that one aspect. Maybe you’ve survived a disease, or a scare with death, or simply raising five children. Remember that there is a market and a group interested in just about any tragic event or tale of survival — write what you’ve lived, stick with what you know, and focus on the good “meaty” stories of your life.

Step 3 – The All Important First Draft

Even after reading all this, you may be wondering “Okay, so how do I write a memoir” To put it simply, put pen to paper. Your first draft is like your first baby. You’ll want to coddle and protect it from everything. NEVER let anyone read your early drafts. As a writer, I’m as embarassed about my first drafts as I am about, say, being seen nude in public. The point of the first draft is to write it all out. Don’t limit yourself, just write write write. Remember that you can always take away later — but it isn’t always as easy to add. Start by noting down all the experiences from your life that you feel would be relevant — do this in whatever order they come to mind. There’s always time to edit this into some semblance of chronology later. Elaborate on each one as much as you can — include every emotional and physical detail. Get it off your chest, in other words. Once you feel all your ideas have been exhausted, reconsider the draft. Read it over, and over, and over — and eventually an appropriate order of events will come to you. Not every story needs to be told chronologically — perhaps you’ll start at the ending, or begin somewhere in the middle. Your heart will tell you how to proceed.

Step 4 – Expanding Your Draft

Rewrite your memoir, from the first page to the last. Make note of any dead or cliche language, errors, or just plain boring storytelling. Remember that a memoir should still be a compelling story. Make sure that you use a writing style that will hold your audience’s attention. Every event needs to have a beginning, middle and end — unless you’re writing a sort of avant garde memoir (in which case most of these rules will be meaningless anyway), and the memoir itself should include an overall beginning, middle and conclusion too. This is the pattern for stories and has been for time immemorial.

Step 5 – Make Yourself A Deadline

I am often guilty of writing a story or a poem or a play “to death”. If you set a realistic deadline for completion, you won’t wind up writing yourself silly, and you will have a natural flow to your memoir. This will also keep your writing schedule consistent, and help ensure that you’ll actually finish the task you set out to accomplish. It is not a good idea to drag a memoir out for years and years, though many have done just this, because new details and events will pile up, leading to a never ending piece of work. A good deadline for completion is something like this — first draft: one month. Second draft: two weeks. Additional drafts: two weeks. Another way to schedule would be to finish your memoir to coincide with a major family event. If you happen to have a family reunion coming up, everyone will really appreciate the memoir, and you will feel special knowing your work is appreciated.

By following these basic steps, you should have a solid memoir that will be appreciated by your audience. Remember to set deadlines, and cater your writing to your anticipated audience. The more you write, the easier it will become to craft a solid writing style that holds the reader’s attention. Follow your deadline, and share your memoir with your loved ones. They’ll thank you for it.

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