How to Write a Memoir

Writing a memoir can be cathartic and help others understand your point of view. If you want to share something about yourself or feel you have a story that would do the world good, then why not write your own memoir?

What is a Memoir?

What is a memoir? According to the dictionary, a memoir definition is “a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.” This means that the memoir doesn’t have to be written by the person it’s about, though most are.

Your memoir will be a book, long or short, that covers tales from your life. While they should always be based on facts, readers understand that memoirs tend to have some imagination in them. You might include a conversation that you only half-remember or imagine must have happened, for example. Storytelling is the most valuable skill for memoir writing.

Writing Your Memoir

Many people never tell their story because they’re not sure how to start or how to write a memoir. Their tales and lessons stay locked in their memories, never to see the light of day. While someone else can write a memoir about them, they might not be able to capture those inner workings of the subject.

The most powerful element of a memoir is the emotional aspect. Aim to bring your readers into the story and make them feel what you felt when you were experiencing it. Your memoir is a success if it causes people to laugh or cry and feel emotion.

How do you get started? Many experts recommend writing down the biggest moments in your life. The times when you made a huge decision or when something happened that changed everything for you. Then look at these and select one that was the most important, most meaningful and most valuable point in your life. You can then begin to spin your story around that moment. What brought you there? What happened when you made a decision? Where did it take you?

You should also start in the middle or even the end of your story. As you write, you can jump back to give readers more perspective. It’s a technique that many novels use, as well. Start with the action and fill in the details later.

A memoir can be as long or short as you want. The story must be told, in however many words that takes. Focus on actually writing the story and not how long it is.

Memoir vs. Autobiography

Many people mix up an autobiography with a memoir, but the two are actually quite different. An autobiography focuses on a linear story, from birth until a set date, in chronological order. A memoir is based around a theme or idea and can skip back and forth in time. Where autobiographies are more like a historical record, a memoir tends to be more personal.

Likewise, an autobiography can only be written by the person it is about, while anyone with some knowledge or research can write a memoir. Which one you choose to write will depend on how you feel about the subject and whether you prefer to write factually and chronologically or spin your stories based on actual events, with a more emotional focus.

For most people who write a memoir, the process is a personal one. It’s cathartic to get everything off your chest and to put it out into the world. Often, sharing your story can help others deal with their own problems, but even if no one else ever reads what you write, it can help you exorcise those demons, relive the good times and come to new realizations about your life.


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