Blogs, Creative Writing, Uncategorized

Things to Consider When Writing a Memoir

Are you thinking about writing your first memoir? My disclaimer: I’m not the foremost authority on memoir writing. What I can tell you is I’ve written more than a handful of memoirs, and three are published. One piece of advice I’ve heard over the years is to write what you know. Memoirs are the easiest of the genres to write, in my opinion. There’s no need to imagine content since it’s your real-life account of events or experiences.

In this blog today, I’m focusing on a high-level view of things to consider when thinking about writing a memoir.

  • Decide whether you want to write a memoir or an autobiography.
    • A memoir is a snapshot of a certain experience, time period, or event in your life. There are authors that write numerous memoirs with many themes. You’ll decide the focus of each memoir or the only memoir you write.
      • For example, I wrote one memoir about a special aunt and our relationship from different periods in my life; another memoir was about my experiences as a caregiver to my spouse -which included the years we navigated the organ transplant list process; the most recent memoir I wrote was simply about a year in my life living through the 2020 pandemic.
    • An autobiography is the story of your life. There are more than enough online resources on autobiography writing. I’ve yet to write my autobiography.
  • Think about how you want to start your memoir.
    • Most memoirs begin with an interesting, devastating, or exciting event in your life. Some say memoir or any legacy writing shouldn’t be presented in chronological order.  However, I believe if a memoir is creative and well-written, starting at the beginning can work. It depends on the subject matter and what the author is trying to convey to the reader.
  • Relax and know a memoir is the easiest thing you’ll ever write.
    • Why? Because you already know the story. There’s no mystery as to what the end of the book will produce. You control how much and what you want to write. Let your words flow just as though you’re writing in a journal about the subject of the memoir. You’re, in fact, telling your true story to your audience – write it as if they were sitting in front of you listening.
  • Be prepared to write more than one memoir.
    •  Alternatively, if you have more than a handful of subjects/events to write about that span throughout your entire life to date  – you might consider writing an autobiography or multiple memoirs.
  • Ask yourself what you want your first or only memoir to be about.
    • Memoirs are usually written about (for example):
      • The Loss of a loved one and the effect it had on your life.
      • A special friendship you had during a period in your life.
      • Your experience going into adulthood.
      • How you adjusted to a change in your life during a difficult time (divorce, sickness, death).
      • Changing careers and how those changes affected you as a person.
      • A change in your financial status and the events that brought about the change.   
      • How you handled your life through a particular time in world events (i.e., 9/11; World War; Earthquake; Floods; Recession; Pandemic).
      • How you overcame humble beginnings and the lessons learned.
      • How mistakes caused you to fail and the wisdom gained from those experiences.
      • A relationship with a family member that was volatile or wonderfully special; how it shaped you as a person.
      • How you recovered from a devastating illness (physical or mental); include the lessons learned about the condition, yourself, and the people in your life during that time.
      • How parenting changed your life during a specific period in you and your child’s life.
      • Surviving a violent event/prolonged abuse and how your account may be able to help others cope with their own experience.
      • The valuable and interesting life lessons you learned during your present or previous occupation.

Finally, the theme of your memoir can be whatever you want. The experience, person, achievement, or world event that had the most profound effect on your life may be the focal point for your first memoir. You’re most likely not alone in your experience and someone will want to read your story.

Happy writing!

©2021 R.H.W. Dorsey

R.H.W. Dorsey is a multi-genre author of memoir, fiction, and poetry. Her latest works are a poetry book, “Pandemic-Inspired Poetry” and “I Should Write Some of This Down.”