How To Write Memoirs

I have had many people ask about writing memoirs. It’s something many people want to do but then do not because of these excuses:

  • My life is boring.
  • I don’t have children so who will read it?
  • I didn’t do anything great to write about.
  • My family will get angry if I write about them.
  • I don’t want to hurt his/her feelings.
  • It’s embarrassing.
  • What if my current friends and family find this out?
  • I have forgotten to much about the experience to do it justice.

Humans are the only species that carry around inner dialogue that is self-defeating. What if, I can’t, I don’t…are all the starts of statements of self-defeat. What you need to ask yourself is, why did you think about writing your memoirs? What will it give you when complete? Is it cathartic in helping you let go of the past? Will the production of a private memoir (you don’t have to publish it) really create havoc in your family life?

In classes I have taught, I encourage people to journal every day. Call it a diary, a journal, or thoughts book, if that seems less intimidating. This is a safe place to put down all the best and worst of yourself. In the first page of my journal I put this statement:  “If you are reading my journal, I am dead or you are sneaky. Either way, you are not allowed to be personally hurt by these words because that is all they are. They are words to describe emotions of a normal human being. They are all a part of my experiences while living, working, and being in the body that God gave me.”

The next thing to consider is what you will gain if you decide to publish your memoir. Stories of any kind serve three purposes; inspire, educate, or entertain. Do you wish to bring light to a condition that effects others and offers ways to cope in a similar situation? Because if you publish in a hope to get rich from your story, it is not likely. Few authors really get enough money making writing books profitable enough to live on.

No one has a boring life. I study people, use personalities of many for characters in my books. Everyone has a unique experience. Your story may be relatable to others with similar experiences even if it is based on your fear to leave your house. I once read a story about a lady who feared spiders so much it led to other phobias over time. It was an intense look at one problem and how it manifested into every area of her life. That was not a boring story because it was her truth.

A memoir is based on truth. If you cannot be true to yourself about your faults, your strengths, and your mistakes, then writing a memoir will only be a fictitious journal. A memoir is also based on a specific part of a life and not a complete story of ones life. A biography or autobiography is a story of a complete life from beginning to present (or end). Memoirs are used to expose difficult circumstances, historical events, or a person’s part played in a memorable time or era. The Anne Frank story is one such example of a part played in a memorable time or era as well as historical event.

There is no length minimum or maximum to a memoir because it is a retelling of your past. The forum in which you share that story may be based on the length of the story. Short stories are great for submissions to magazines and blogs. Lengthy stories of 180 pages or more are book length and may be submitted as such.

In what ever way you decide to share your story, it can be a way to rid yourself of past regrets. I have journaled for years and only a small portion of those notes have become fodder for stories I have published. There are no rules in memoir writing other than those you impose upon yourself. Open a notebook, put pen to paper, and let it flow.


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