How to Write a Memoir

Here are some tips on how to write a memoir, along with prompts and ideas to get you started. For more inspiration, join our free email group.

1. Focus your memoir.

Instead of trying to include your whole life, it helps to choose a focus. You might write about:

  • a specific event that happened to you.
  • the impact on your own life of an outside event (for example, a war, an economic crisis, your parents' divorce).
  • a specific aspect of your life (for example, your relationship with your father, your travel through Asia, your struggle to overcome a phobia).
  • a particular time or stage of your life.

Try to come up with a focus that will resonate with others. Click here for a list of 59 memoir topics.

Focusing your memoir will make it much easier to write, and it will also make it easier to publish! And all of the parts of your life that you've left out? You can turn them into separate memoirs.

2) Use story-telling techniques.

Even though you're writing about true events, you can make them feel like a story.

The people you're writing about are characters in this story, and you'll use character development techniques to bring them to life.

You'll write scenes, using dialogue and descriptive details, to recreate your memories on the page so that readers can experience them first-hand.

3) Show instead of telling.

Did you have a special relationship with your grandmother? Instead of telling that to the reader, show some of moments when you felt her love and your closeness.

Were you bullied as a child? Instead of telling the reader how painful it was or how cruel the bullies could be, show some of the incidents that occurred.

Showing has a stronger emotional impact than telling. It allows readers to see things for themselves. If you do this well, you won't have to tell readers what you felt in a particular situation, because the readers will feel it too.

4) Trust your voice.

You aren't writing an essay for school or a Wikipedia article. You don't have to use a formal style that might not come naturally.

Some of the best memoirs are written in a conversational way, as if the author is talking to a good friend. This tends to be more fun to read than Wikipedia!

5) Read lots of memoirs.

Even if they describe experiences very different from your own, you'll learn a lot about memoir-writing from reading other people's memoirs.

Pay attention to the way the memoirs are structured, how they incorporate story-telling techniques, and how the author’s voice comes through. What makes them vivid and engaging, humorous or suspenseful? Try some of the same strategies in your own writing.

Learn how to write a memoir in our 8-week online course.

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How to Write a Memoir - Articles

59 Memoir Ideas - 59 memoir writing topics and 3 memoir prompts that will get you inspired to write about your life experiences.

Memoir Prompts - A list of questions and topics to inspire writing about your memories. You can use these prompts for journaling and to generate ideas for memoirs.

Heather Sellers on How to Write a Memoir - Interview with the author of You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know.

Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett on Memoir Writing - An 8-part interview on memoir-writing techniques, the use of journaling, ethical issues in memoir writing, and more.