By definition, your memoir is about you: “a narrative composed from personal experience and knowledge.” But at Writer’s Relief, we know it’s important for a writer to realize a memoir is so much more than simply retelling a personal story. Your memoir can be a powerful piece of writing that is also life-changing for readers: It should contain a lesson that your audience can relate to and learn from. Here are writing tips and advice from our experts on how to write an unforgettable, must-read memoir that’s not just about you.
How To Write Your Memoir
Unlike an autobiography, which can encompass an entire life story, a memoir is creatively written and focuses on certain moments or life events in order to serve a greater meaning. The moment or event you choose to write about is vitally important: A successful memoir appeals to your audience and offers some value to the reader. For example, you may think your days working at a customer service desk are endlessly interesting, but what will the reader gain from your story? A rehash of your daily life won’t intrigue most readers, but advice on how you learned to handle difficult people or a lighthearted, entertaining look at our shopping idiosyncrasies will engage your audience.
Choose your topic. When writing a memoir, pick a manageable subject and the events in your life that support this specific story. The topic of your memoir will determine which elements of your story will appeal to your readers. If you’re telling a story about how your father’s alcoholism affected your life, you could include how he embarrassed you at the school play, or how he didn’t show up for your wedding. But don’t mention the time you were in the corner candy store and it was robbed, since that’s irrelevant to the main message.
Know your audience. Make sure you know who your target audience is so you can write in a way that connects with your readers. Again, it’s important to know the purpose of your memoir: What will your readers take away from your book? Are they looking for life lessons and takeaways, details about a historical event from an insider’s point of view, or some humorous escapism? The answer will determine how you write your memoir.
Understand that it’s not about you. As contradictory as this seems, your memoir is not about you. This is not your opportunity to massage your ego, nor is your memoir a journal or diary where you write random private thoughts or complain. Your memoir is about the events and experiences in your life that relate to the message you want to share. Give your readers insights to create a story they care about.
Be honest. You are the protagonist of your story. And just like any fictional hero, you can be boring and unrelatable if you erase all your flaws and mistakes. Inflating your contribution to the story is also a big no-no: Be honest and objective. It’s okay to be vulnerable on the page, especially during emotionally significant moments—in fact, it will boost your credibility.
Think like a fiction writer. With memoir, you’re not just relating facts; you’re also a storyteller. Creative writing elements such as character development, an intriguing plot, and maybe a twist or two will all enhance your memoir for your reader.
Show, don’t tell. This writing advice is essential for good writing in any genre, including memoir. Nothing loses an audience faster than page after page of tell, tell, tell. Use dialogue, characterization, and vivid imagery that engages all five senses to immerse your readers into your story. Help them live your experiences with you and go on a meaningful journey through your eyes.
Include input from other sources. While a memoir is about you and your experiences, your account can benefit from input drawn from other sources as well. Friends and family may have journals, photos, recordings, or details you can add to create a more rounded version of your story. Historic memoirs will benefit greatly from research into bigger events that shape your story.
If your personal story has elements that will resonate with readers, writing a memoir is a great way to share your insights and knowledge. And when you’re ready to submit your memoir for publication, Writer’s Relief can help you pinpoint the literary agents most likely to be interested in representing your book to the traditional publishing houses. Learn more about our Review Board and how we can boost your odds of getting your memoir published!
Question: What insights would you share in your memoir?