Are you interested in writing a memoir?
Do you want to pass on your own personal experience?
How do you begin to write memoir?
What is a Memoir?
Biography. Autobiography. Memoir. What’s the difference?
A memoir is an account of one's personal life and experiences. ‘Memoir' is derived from the Latin memory and from the French word mémoire, meaning 'reminiscence' or 'memory.' It is written by an individual that covers a portion of that person’s life as it relates to a historic event, circumstance or period. If you’re a celebrity or famous person, a memoir would focus on the public portion of your life. You don’t have to report on all of your life, just a specific portion of it. A few popular examples of memoirs include A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In the movie genre, Eat Pray Love is probably the most recent and popular example of a memoir.
A memoir is a themed vignette in the genre of creative nonfiction. In other words, it’s a true story and not a falsification or enhancing of the facts. Memories can change or fade, but you are still expected to be honest and check facts. A memoir offers the author an opportunity to reflect on their own life, or at least a portion of it. Therefore, you can write many memoirs throughout the course of your life: as a child, a teen, a young adult, a spouse, a new parent, a parent of teens, a grandparent, etc.
In contrast, an autobiography is a telling of a person’s entire life from birth to date—public, professional, and private. An autobiography, often chronological, is also written by a person about oneself, and is usually categorized as a tell-all book.
A biography is a life story written by one person about another person. Biographies can be authorized (with permission granted by the subject) or unauthorized.
What is a Personal Narrative?
A personal narrative communicates a story during the narrator’s life journey that includes his/her experience, thoughts, feelings, and reflections. However, a memoir encompasses material that goes beyond a simple personal narrative. A memoir may include information that falls outside of the story teller’s immediate knowledge and experience.
Further, a narrative is a short story that contains descriptive elements, such as setting, characters, dialogue, and plot. A personal narrative portrays the author’s actual experience during a specific event, or set of events, including the author’s thoughts and feelings. A personal narrative is typically written in the first-person point of view, in either present or past tense.
When Should You Consider Writing a Memoir?
How do you know when the right time is to start writing your memoir? The short answer is that there is no right time, no wrong time, and probably no perfect time. You will always have life obligations and distractions that will keep you busy. That’s just life, plain and simple.
But perhaps there are life circumstances that prompt you to begin writing your own memoir. Perhaps you have just lost a loved one and wish that you could have preserved more of their memories and life experiences. Perhaps you, yourself, have had a health scare and have decided that it’s time to not waste time anymore. Perhaps you’ve been given the gift of time—an extended vacation, maternity bedrest, or a financial windfall—that has enabled you to get organized to begin writing your memoir.
Whatever your circumstance, the right time will strike you. And when it does, take notice and listen. The universe, or your intuition, may be trying to tell you something. After all, the right time to write your memoir could be now.
The Art of Writing a Memoir
How do you start writing your personal memoir? That’s usually the big question. Where to begin.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter where you begin—just that you do begin. You can always go back and organize later. Here’s a quote about the art and craft of writing a good memoir.
"A good memoir requires two elements—one of art, the other of craft. The first is integrity of intention… Memoir is how we try to make sense of who we are, who we once were, and what values and heritage shaped us. If a writer seriously embarks on that quest, readers will be nourished by the journey, bringing along many associations with quests of their own.
"The other element is carpentry. Good memoirs are a careful act of construction. We like to think that an interesting life will simply fall into place on the page. It won't… Memoir writers must manufacture a text, imposing narrative order on a jumble of half-remembered events."
(William Zinsser, "Introduction." Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Mariner, 1998)
Start with your best story/stories first. Remember, a memoir doesn’t include everything from this particular moment in time during the author’s life. Instead, only the parts of the event that provide meaning in the book and to the reader are selected.
Be your own reporter when writing your memoir. It’s not enough to tell what happened. You need to also tell the who, what, when, where, why, and how of each story. Were there any witnesses? Get their accounts as well. Describe the scene or setting using your five senses: hearing, vision, touch, smell, and taste.
A memoir is written in first person from the author’s point of view. A memoir should also include several essential elements; a memoir should be interesting, truthful, personal, vulnerable, and thematic. If you have learned a life lesson, then that should be conveyed by experience in your memoir. Tell about how the events or story affected you and how it changed your view of the world. So, reading your memoir should be an experience, hopefully a changing one, for the reader as well.
And by the way, you don’t have to write! Yes, we said it. You can also create your memoir through a video, photo slideshow, PowerPoint presentation or audio recording. So, if writing isn’t your thing, don’t be afraid to try something else. If you still want to write a book but don’t feel skilled enough, you can even hire a ghost writer.
Here are a few other tips you may find helpful while writing.
- Just write.
- Turn off your inner critic.
- Look for support from others during your project.
- Be kind to yourself and to your memory.
- Take it one day at a time.
- Break down a big project into smaller to-do items.
- Get emotional, and don’t hold back.
- Stay true to your vision.
- Be yourself.
What to Include in Your Life Story
What can a memoir be written about?
The key elements of a memoir are limitless, and depend on the person writing the memoir. If your important life moments revolved around family or education or work or travel, you may want to focus on those areas.
Here is a list of possible talking points or events to include in your memoir.
- Your birth
- First words, first steps
- Childhood experiences
- First day of school
- Friends – school, neighborhood, and other
- Family heritage
- Elementary school
- Middle school
- High school
- College / university
- Graduate school
- Special moments
- Good luck, bad luck
- Work / career/ retirement
- Achievements / awards
- Favorite movies, books, songs
- Ambitions / dreams
- Bucket list
- And much more!
Why Your Life Experience Matters
Decades ago, those entering their senior years were mostly worried about how to pass on an inheritance as well as their worldly goods. Families placed a higher value on what was given to the children, grandchildren, and close family members and friends of a deceased relative.
Today’s modern senior citizens place a lower importance on money and physical belongings. And they are now placing a higher priority on passing along life lessons and experiences to their loved ones. Why? Because the life journey continually teaches us lessons. There is always something new to learn, a new circumstance to navigate, and a new problem to solve.
No matter what roles you’ve taken on in life, either by choice or by circumstance—mother, father, sister, brother, wife, husband, daughter, son, aunt, uncle, grandparent, friend, employee, employer, business owner, military personnel, politician, teacher, student, caregiver, provider, protector, athlete, entertainer, musician, artist, author, speaker, volunteer, team member, etc.—you have a story to tell and a lesson to share.
Yes, it’s essential to learn from your own experiences and make the changes and adjustments to become more successful in life. But it’s also extremely helpful to learn from the valuable experiences of those older and wiser than oneself. Age does come with wisdom—and newer and wider perspectives. Mining those nuggets stored in the life experiences of your parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle can serve highly valuable in your own life.
So how do you know if your life story is worthy of writing a memoir? We all have a point of view regarding our own lives and the lives of those around us. And we’ve all discovered our own way of managing the events and circumstances that life throws our way. Here’s a short list of what you may think of when writing your memoir.
- Family struggles
- Ups and downs
- Funny things
- Goals and aspirations
- Identity and self-worth
- The roles you choose to play in life
- How you handle adversity
- Values and beliefs
- And more!
It is through taking the time to record your experiences that you gain the opportunity to get in touch with your greater purpose. By experiencing the best and worst aspects of life— love, joy, success, harmony, freedom, peace, compassion, empathy, bliss, acceptance, patience, frustration, anxiety, pain, anger, fear, worry, failure, impatience, judgment, jealousy, envy, hate, etc.—we gain the life experience to learn and pass on.
By taking the time to write about these life experiences, you will be able to answer the questions you may or may not have yet verbalized.
- Why does my life matter?
- What about my life matters?
- Why am I here?
- What am I passionate about?
How to Stay Organized While Writing a Memoir
As with any project, the first step is to begin. It’s important not to worry about being perfect as you write. The most important thing is to get your story out. You can always go back and revise, rewrite, edit, proofread, fact check, etc. For the first round, stay focused on writing your rough draft.
While you are writing your memoir, you can take advantage or several organizational techniques to help you stay on track and keep your thoughts—and your papers—organized.
- Idea journal
You may want to start with an idea journal to help you narrow down your list of possible memoir topics. Remember, a memoir is about only a portion of your life journey, and not your entire life. Once you decide on a topic or theme for your memoir, you may want to create an outline or a timeline or even a storyboard, which includes photos and/or drawings. Once you have an outline, a timeline or a storyboard, you may want to flesh it out with further details. You may also find some software available to prompt you through the process. Then comes the main task: writing!
One caveat: During the writing process, it’s a good idea to keep a separate list of notes regarding items to return to and fix (e.g., spelling, punctuation, fact checking, other witness accounts, etc.)
What Is a Six-Word Memoir?
As story telling is not concrete and comes in many forms, both traditional and modern, so are the ways you can write your memoir. Perhaps you’re not a verbose person. Perhaps you don’t want to take the time to write your entire story. Or perhaps you want to challenge yourself to sum up your life journey as succinctly as possible. Whatever your purpose, a six-word memoir may be the road for you.
Six-Word Memoirs is a project founded in November 2006 by the U.S.-based online storytelling magazine SMITH Magazine. Like that publication, Six-Word Memoirs seek to provide a platform for storytelling in all of its forms.
Using only six words can help you get to the point of your life story. There’s no room for anything flowery or superfluous here. You can use Six Words as an exercise to spark your imagination and drill down the news of your day or the way you’ve lived your life. It’s a short description or a motto, of sorts.
Creating a Spiritual Autobiography / Travel Memoir / Parenting Memoir / Memoir Essay
As discussed, memoirs should be theme related. That typically means that you write your memoir about a particular period in your life, usually a short time. But maybe you want to write your memoir about an extended time during your life that revolves around a certain theme.
For example, maybe your life has taken you on many travels throughout the world. And perhaps through your series of travels, your life has changed as you gained a wider knowledge of the world, different countries and cultures, and humanity. So, you may decide to create a memoir of your travels, even though they took place at different times in your life.
You may have experienced a spiritual journey throughout the course of your life. Maybe you changed religions one or more times throughout your life. Maybe you left your religion for a period, and then came back to it. Your spiritual journey can be another great example of a memoir theme that other readers can learn and grow from.
Parenting is a life experience that changes everyone. No one is ever quite the same person they were before bringing a child or children into the world… before having to feed, clothe, and care for another human being… before being fully responsible for another human life. Parenting also brings along with it many funny and interesting challenges. After all, children do say the funniest things. They have a completely innocent perspective on life, unlike an adult who may be somewhat influenced by past negative experiences. A memoir about your parenting experiences can be something that any other parent—new or experienced—can relate to.
Finally, you may want to consider writing a personal essay. A memoir essay is a much shorter written work that is centered on a significant memory from your past. A memoir essay describes that memory and clarifies why and how it was meaningful to you and how that memory influenced the course of your life.
Whichever topic you choose for your memoir or whatever way you choose to tell your story, it’s important to be both honest and emotional. If you’re going to make the effort to pass on a memory and its effect on you, then you’ll want to make it an emotional experience for the reader as well. No one wants to read a boring story. So, make it interesting. Make it fun. And have fun doing it!
Lastly.com enables you to easily capture the stories and special moments throughout your life (or that of a loved one) so that you will be remembered and cherished by future generations. Get started today!