News room: 4 Tips for Writing Your Memoir

4 Tips for Writing Your Memoir by Jessica Barrah

We’re called ‘CompletelyNovel’ but that doesn’t mean we only publish fiction. Many of the most successful of our self-publishing authors have written about an aspect of their own life, for example their travels, a personal project or family history. Writing a memoir can be a great way to share your life story with your friends and family and printed copies can also be a lovely gift.

Memoir, or Autobiography?

What’s the difference between a memoir and an autobiography? This article explains it in more detail – but essentially, a memoir can focus on a part, rather than the whole of your life. Starting to write a memoir can be a daunting task – but here are four tips to help you on your way.

1. Make A Diagram

To get an idea of the shape of your memoir, plotting out a diagram can help. Choose six significant moments in your life – and then decide which could be the ‘pivotal’ moment. You could base the book around this episode, whilst still drawing in the other five moments, or just concentrate on that one episode. Divide your experiences up by critical choices, influential people, conflicts, beliefs, lessons, or even mistakes. Play around with the structure until you feel the book has a good trajectory, with a proper beginning, middle and end.

2. Be Selective

In a long life, there will be a lot of details to remember. My father started writing his memoirs – and after months of work, is currently up to aged four, unhappy about not being chosen to be the lead in the nursery nativity. Most people don’t want to write a seven volume memoir.
As when writing fiction, you need to focus on the most compelling memories, and emotions. You don’t need to include everything. You can skip time and ignore uneventful years to get to the more exciting parts. You don’t necessarily need to write in chronological order. Focus on the purpose of what you are trying to convey, for example, how meeting your future wife changed the course of your life, and steer your story towards that. Read more tips about common mistakes to avoid when writing your memoir here.

3. Include more than just your story

Your readers want to know about you, but do include details about your family’s history, the area you grew up in or are writing about, and significant characters in your life. Things which were normal to you at the time might be unusual and fascinating to your readers, especially if you’re writing about events a long time ago, or you were living in a different country. All the little details build up a fuller, richer picture of you and your backstory. Read more about writing a memoir here.

4. Show, Not Tell

Again, the priciples of good writing transfer over, in the old saying of ‘show not tell’. Instead of writing ‘my mother had a problem with depression’, describe how this manifested itself in the details of your every day life. Read this article about how John le Carré does such a good job of this.

If you’d like more inspiration, read about the best literary memoirs of all time here. We look forward to seeing more of your life stories in print!

Further reading:

17 Posts

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Written by
Jessica Barrah
Published on
Memoir, Memories, Autobiography, Publishing, Self-publishing, Writing, Family, and History