A memoir is an engaging account of the writer’s slice of life. It is a narrative reflecting the storyteller’s perspective, voice, memory, and reflection.
By narrating your significant life moments, you gain the self-realization that your life was interesting, and you leave a valuable gift for future generations. Finally, revisiting your life helps you gain a new significance and meaning to life in general.
What Makes a Good Memoir?
Here are a few elements that make a good memoir.
- Honesty: This will win your readers’ hearts.
- Strong Theme: You need to leave your readers with something they can take away.
- Emotions: You need to go deep into stories that demand it and really tug on some heart strings.
- Challenges: Give readers challenges they can relate to and learn from.
- Solid Conclusion: Give readers a conclusion that ties in ideas to support your memoir’s theme.
A good memoir should also resemble a novel in many ways. It needs to have:
- A good and easy-to-follow plot.
- Different scenes that are well-connected to each other.
- A conclusion that may tie in some major themes from the body of the memoir.
Just like the characters in a novel, there should be characters in your memoir who grow and develop throughout the book.
Do Memoirs Have to Be True?
Yes, memoirs need to be as true as possible.
But here’s the reality: not every piece of information your write down will be truly accurate. That’s because you’re human, and you’ll be writing about real-life events from your perspective.
For example, you could describe a situation with many sides to the story (some of which you won’t be aware of). Capturing all of them will make your memoir overbearing and cumbersome. So, it’s natural for you to miss out on a few details.
Nevertheless, always try to be as accurate as you can be. Here are a few tips to help you out:
- Review your memories and double-check with different people involved in a scene to get as accurate of a picture as possible.
- Do not reveal any information to a family member before publishing your memoir without getting it reviewed first (a good editor may help you filter out overly sensitive or damaging information).
- Use an embellished but authentic speech to make your dialogs as natural as possible.
- If you don’t recall a memory, be honest about it in the memoir.
How Do You Structure a Memoir?
How you structure your memoir depends on what angle you choose to write it.
If you decide to go with a chronological memoir, then you should structure it with a mostly linear sequence of events. Of course, it won’t be completely linear as you’ll have to refer to past or future events when describing some scenes.
If you tackle your memoir from a past versus present angle, then you’ll need to organize it according to the themes covered in each scene. Or you can present a linear sequence of events and compare them to different scenes from the past or future, depending on where you start.
You may also write your memoir as a journey of personal struggle, wherein the order doesn’t matter as much as the message you’re trying to share. However, write your story in a manner where one event connects to the next.
How to Start a Memoir?
Start a memoir in a way that will get your reader’s attention from the get-go.
You can lead with an emotional story, a funny anecdote, or something dramatic. Be creative with how you describe the event to keep your readers engaged.
However, that’s not a license to sacrifice authenticity. You can lose a reader pretty quickly if they find out you’re not honest with your story. So, building your reader’s trust is a crucial ingredient in creating the perfect start.
A useful tip is to save your intro for the end. After you’ve written your first draft, take some time to think about how you want to open the door for your reader. Think of what stories mean the most to you and perhaps begin with those.
How Many Words in a Typical Memoir?
A typical memoir should have almost around the same word count as a novel, which would be around 60,000 to 80,000 words.
This range is normally the average you want to aim for because it will have enough content to help engage avid and casual readers alike.
If you write anything less than 60,000 words, then you run the risk of doing one or more of the following:
- You may not have a substantial amount of content to engage your readers.
- You may not be sharing enough of your story.
- You may not be delving deep enough into your story.
There may be exceptions to the “Sixty to Eighty Thousand” rule. If your memoir has essential details that can’t be left out, then you may be allowed to go slightly over the word count. However, try staying as close as possible to the upper limit of the range.
How to Write a Conclusion for a Memoir?
Before starting with the beginning of your memoir, we highly recommend you begin with the end.
You’ll want to have a theme for your memoir ready before you start writing it—and this is the theme you’ll also want to end with.
So, gather up some ideas about what you want to write in your conclusion and then pen them down.
And yes, it’s okay to go back and revisit your conclusion after you’re done with everything else. There could be specific stories you want to revisit. You might even change your theme slightly as you write the memoir, so you’ll have to tweak the conclusion a little bit.
Conclude your memoir with the same authenticity, honesty, and energy with which you began.
You want the conclusion to leave a mark on the reader. You can do this by tying major events into the conclusion.
Also, conclude your memoir with the same theme as the intro. For example, if you describe a drug addiction as you sinking in a pool of water, conclude with something along the lines of coming out of the deep waters.
Whatever you choose, be creative and honest with your conclusion to leave a mark on your readers.
Memoir Writing Tips
- Memoirs should be in first person. Of course, there are memoirs where narratives are in the second and third person too. However, first person makes sense because you are narrating your own life stories, so it feels more natural. For instance, Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey by Florence Williams is the author’s own account of grief and healing.
- Make sure your memoir is engaging from the word “go.” Everyone loves to read stories. It will be even better if these engrossing stories can help them come across viewpoints and insights that are fresh and meaningful! Maybe choose a dramatic event to open your memoir. The details can follow later, but a sneak peek into what is coming up will likely arouse the reader’s curiosity. Further, adopt a fiction-writing style and incorporate its elements of story, suspense, humor, tragedy, etc. Make sure you follow a story structure comprising a powerful opening, middle, and end to guide the readers through your narrative.
- Even though you write your memoir in a fictional style, it is still your So, build the reader’s confidence by letting them know that you are sharing a secret that has never seen the light of the day.
- Since your memoir will also mention other people who have been a part of your journey, be sensitive to their confidentiality. You should take permission from various people included in your memoir before penning down their role in your life. Change names to conceal their identity, if needed. Furthermore, even if you dislike them in real life, exercise humility. Do not try to settle scores through your writing.
- Your memoir should be as objective as possible. Even if you have been the victim, avoid self-pity. Similarly, blowing one’s own trumpet is also a strict no-no. It’s best to be down-to-earth, humble, and unassuming. Your readers will love to see a writer who has the ability and courage to laugh at themselves. Additionally, lead it with humor whenever you have a gloomy story to share. Give your readers an assortment of emotions so that they don’t feel low reading your memoir.
- Remember to avoid unnecessary details. Include interesting details and life experiences that support your memoir. Keep your narrative crisp and relevant to ensure you do not bore your readers.
- Use language that has the power to connect with your audience. Evoke emotions in your reader. If they can relate to your story, they will weep in your sorrow and rejoice in your happiness.
- You don’t need to follow a chronological order while you set out to write your memoir. I consider these mental blocks that might procrastinate your writing, sometimes leading to writer’s block. Get started with the most inspiring part of the story or the one closest to your heart. Once you have created the first draft, revisit the beginning to see how you wish to open the narrative. Trust me, by the subsequent few drafts, you will have landed with your perfect ending.
- Memoir writing is known to have a therapeutic effect. While writing it, you get a space to mention the events you choose to pen down and how you felt about them, even if those feelings were embarrassing or humiliating at that time.
Step-by-Step Process To Write Your Memoir
1. Pick a Theme for Your Memoir
Before you begin writing anything, you must first pick a theme for your memoir. Think of this as the angle from which you want to approach your memoir.
To get the ball rolling, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- What are some major ideas I want to share with my readers?
- Are there enough events in my life that capture these ideas?
- Are these ideas unique only to me, or are there other writers with the same ones?
- What do I want readers to get out of my memoir?
Once you’ve sufficiently pondered these questions, you should have a clear-cut idea about your memoir’s theme.
2. List Out Life Experiences Associated with the Theme
Now that you have a strong foothold on your theme, you’ll need to list all life experiences that pertain to it.
You have so many memories from your life to think about. Here’s a list to get you started:
- Earliest memories you can recall
- Childhood dreams
- Childhood friends
- Family outings
- School trips
- First crush
- Close Friends
- First heartbreak
- High school
- Moments of anger
- Moments of bliss
The list goes on. What also helps is connecting dots from one memory to the other because you might find another story in between.
To jog your memory, ask your family members about their favorite memories of you. You’ll be surprised at the ones you missed out on.
3. Write with Honesty and Detail
Organize your list in your preferred order and write down everything you remember about the events.
Be honest about your experiences because readers can sometimes detect if you’re fibbing. More importantly, you have to be honest with yourself. You don’t want a book about you containing information that’s not true.
Also, be generous with details. The more detail you give to your stories, the more entertaining and believable they are.
Honesty and detail in your memoir will make you a more vulnerable writer, and your readers will appreciate that. If your memory of an event is a little fuzzy, you can always ask someone with whom you shared that memory to iron out any details.
4. Paint Your Memoir
To put it bluntly, don’t use boring language. This is your story, and you want your readers to get excited about it.
Use the “Show, Don’t Tell” style of writing to paint a detailed image of every story. Your reader needs to feel like they’re present and participating in your past experiences. Moreover, vivid language helps your writing pick on your readers’ emotional side.
Obviously, there are certain limits. Not every memory is a colorful one. So, choose your style of language appropriately with each memory.
5. Make Connections and Develop Your Theme
As you write one story after another—keeping your theme in mind—you will have to draw connections across them. Doing this will help you better organize your story and give it a better flow.
You might also run into the “problem” of tweaking your theme. That’s alright because it’s part of the process. Straying away from your main theme may lead you to rewrite previous stories. So, make sure you’re in the ballpark of what you initially decided.
6. Tie It All in with the Present
Your stories and memories made you who you are today. Otherwise, they’re just stories.
Find ways to tie in major life events to the present moment. Ask yourself these questions:
- How did this event impact my life back then?
- How does it shape who I am today?
- Is this an experience I’m glad I had?
Every story you share should bring the reader back to the present and show how they made you who you are today.
7. Write a Killer Intro
After you’ve written all your experiences, glowing with your theme, and tied everything with the present, you have to hook your reader in.
Write a strong intro that’ll introduce you to the reader and set the stage for an exciting journey into your life. A boring introduction might set them off to a bad start, and there’s the possibility they won’t go any further.
Write in a tone of familiarity and warmth to welcome the reader and slowly introduce them to the theme, how it relates to you, and what they can expect moving forward with the memoir.
8. Re-Read and Make Changes
After completing your manuscript, you need to read it a few times, look for inconsistencies, add additional stories, and rewrite stories to match your theme.
It’ll probably take a few reads before you come out with a finished product. During this stage, ensure your intro and conclusion are on the same level. How you start is how you want to finish as well.
While writing your memoir, revisit your life’s moments and make better sense of how you lived. The experience of writing will heal and transform you. In the process, you are also creating a priceless legacy for future generations.