How to Write a Memoir
- Outline and list the stories you want to include. Do you want to start from the beginning? From your earliest memories? Or is there a particular period of your life that’s especially significant and you want to focus on?
- Think about common themes. You might come up with some in advance, or just notice them as you’re writing. What are the common threads running through all of the stories in your memoir? Determination? Humor? Faith? Friendship? A good memoir needs to have common themes so that it doesn’t seem too disorganized.
- Choose a structure. Some memoirs are a series of individual stories. While they have common themes, there isn’t a smooth flow of narrative from chapter to chapter – each story stands on its own. In other narratives, the structure is unified, with each story flowing into the next and no jumping from story to story. It’s sort of like the difference between a TV sitcom (where each episode makes sense on its own) and a TV drama (where each episode builds on the one before). Both structures work for memoirs – it’s just a matter of preference.
When to Use Memoir
Memoir is strictly a genre of creative writing, specifically creative nonfiction. Sometimes, you might want to write an essay about something you’ve lived through, but that’s an anecdote rather than a memoir (see section 6).
For the most part, memoirs are written just for fun. However, as people get older, they often want to reflect on the life they’ve lived and try to understand it as a whole. So many people take pleasure in writing memoirs to understand themselves, even if they know very few people will read it outside their immediate circle of family and friends.