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How To Write A Memoir — Part One

Your Life. You lived it. Surely you can write about it. Right?

In How To Write A Memoir, Part 1, we’ll discuss methods and ideas about writing personal stories, with links to published memoirs.

How To Write A Memoir, Part 2, we’ll cover organizing, revising and more.

You can write in chronological order, or build your story around pivotal events. In the beginning, it doesn’t matter what structure you use. Write in a style that is comfortable for you. Try one way and if isn’t working for you, try something else.

Memoirs written in chronological order (with back story woven in): To Have Not by Frances Lefkowitz  and Grief Denied by Pauline Laurent.

Rachael Herron, A Life in Stitches, assembles her stories around her knitting experiences.

For the first draft, it’s fine to jump around in time. Don’t worry too much about making sense in the early stage of writing. Get your stories written. Organize later.

Paper or Computer?
You can write using paper and pen/pencil or on a computer. Or both. For the most part, it doesn’t matter which method you use. The advantage of a computer is it’s (usually) faster. The advantage of paper and pen or pencil is the portability. Some people suggest there are benefits to handwriting for accessing creativity.


If remembering and writing details about your life is difficult, it’s very important to have a strategy to avoid additional trauma. Create a self-care plan to protect yourself when writing about deeply painful topics.

Writing Prompts

You can use writing prompts to jumpstart your freewrites, to trigger memories and to make discoveries. Choose a prompt, write for 15 or 20 minutes. Take a break. Next time, choose another prompt. Good prompts to get started are:

I remember . . .

I don’t remember . . .

In this photo, I . . .

In this photo, you . . .

family photosPhotos

You can use photos to inspire your writing. First, look at the photo. Write all the details that you can see. Write about what happened before and after the photo was taken. Write about feelings you have connected with this photo.

Photos might remind you about activities, important occasions and details that you may have forgotten. Did Grandpa always wear that hat? Did Grandma wear her apron with the little flower print every day, even on holidays? My Nana did.

Other Memoirs

Read memoirs to get an idea of how you want to proceed with your memoir. Some styles will appeal to you. Others aren’t right for you. You can read reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads to research different styles of memoirs.

Susan Bono, What Have We Here, grouped her personal essays by theme.

Rayne Wolfe, Toxic Mom Toolkit, braids three strands: her memoir, excerpts from others and toolkits.

Janice Crow, I Give You My Word, created poems and watercolors to enhance exploring her journey.

Story Telling

When writing, think of yourself as a storyteller. In this story, you are the main character. Your family and friends are the supporting cast members. When you write, don’t think of any of these cast members. Write events (scenes) as you remember them, without worries (for now) about accuracy. With the first draft, put on your story-telling hat and write what happened.


Interview family members, friends and acquaintances to learn details you may not know. You might realize a broader perspective from hearing other points of view.

Research news, locally and world-wide, during the time period your story takes place. Tie in events with your story, if appropriate. Fact check details: slang, clothing styles, popular dances, technical gadgetry, geographical, etc.

Take a few minutes

After you have written all that you want to say, spend some time reflecting. What compelled you to write these stories?

Perhaps your writing is a learning tool to understand what happened and to educate others as Piri Thomas does in Down These Mean Streets.

Maybe your desire is to get these stories off your chest, to vent, to release emotions as well as help others similar to Ellevie by Marcelle Evie Guy.

Maybe you want to record family stories, to document your family history.

How To Write A Memoir – Part 2, we explore what to do after you have written your memoir, revision and the business of writing.

woman writingFinal Comments
This likely will be an emotional project. Take whatever time you need for breaks. Remember to exercise, go on walks, drink water and find joy, wherever you can.

Just Write

There are over 200 prompts on The Write Spot Blog. Use them for your memoir, for personal exploration and for fun!



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  1. Pingback: Mini memoirs unfold naturally – The Write Spot Blog

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