How to Write a Memoir: 10 Tips for Writing a Powerful Memoir
When it comes to writing a memoir, it takes a little thorough research; a memoir isn’t a fancy literary terminology as some would wrongly posit—I had to say this, because most times in schools, reading communities, and the likes, the words are incorrectly interchanged.
Yes, your memoir will be autobiographical in all essence, but it can’t be basically about you. Do you get it? If not, then read this article so you could get the stuff I’m trying to say.
But before I crack it all up here, I’ll like to tell you that writing a memoir based on your own experience needs a good touch-up story, something which moves your readers. But to make such an impression on the reader from the start of the page, it’s important to craft a thoroughly researched but strong opening.
This is to say, when you write a memoir, do begin with a dramatic hook that makes the reader want more of the little bits of information accurately arranged in your piece. But, on the other hand, if you can hold the reader’s attention from the start, then be pretty sure they’ll be able to stick with you throughout the whole book.
What is a Memoir?
According to Wikipedia, a memoir is from the French word, memoire, memoria, which means memory or reminiscence. Therefore, it is any nonfiction narrative writing which is solely based on the author’s memories. The assertions made in work are thus considered to be factual.
It is believed the first memoir started in A.D. 397, this was when Saint Augustine of Hippo began writing the confessions of Saint Augustine in which he told the world of the sins that troubled him; here’s a little excerpt from his memoir; ‘It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing.’
Also, read How to Write an Autobiography in 8 Amazing Steps
Ever since that memoir came up, we all have thought that we can know a person more intimately, even a famous one!
Although the memoir Confessions is somewhat autobiographical in its structure, the intimacy of the narrative was a new fact. And just by that one book, the craze for giving good memoirs sprang up.
Types of Memoirs
When it comes to this, they are unlimited in number. Why? You might want to ask, well, the answer is just the same way you think, feel unlimited, that’s the same way there are no finite number of memoirs, and can never be.
However, most of them fall in various large kinds, but with a little chance to overlap. We have;
1. Confessional Memoir example
These types of memoir writing are typically and unapologetically bold. The author is said to share their family’s painful or shameful secrets. Now, for example, running with Scissors is Augustine Burroughs’s childhood expose. It is written that his mother had left him to be raised by her psychiatrist, who was said to live in a poor neighborhood.
He was never taken to school, and he was never protected from the pedophile who lived in the backyard.
2. Transformation Memoir example
These types of memoirs are written after an author has endured a great challenge. These stories are said to include a theme of redemption, whether it is achieved or missing. One example of this type of memoir writing is Finding Freedom by Erin French.
3. Travel Memoir example
This helps you travel or escape with the writer so that you would be able to feel the experiences of a writer in a particular time and place. An example of this memoir type is A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.
4. Professional Memoir example
This is said to cover significant moments in the writer’s rise to fame and success. One example is Just Kids by Patti Smith.
Reasons why you need a memoir
One of the reasons to write a memoir is to preserve your legacy or your family’s legacy and learn more about yourself, your family, or things people fail to know about you and your family. Not forgetting to search for personal identity, gain particular insights about the past or heal from a traumatic experience that got you all recluse or clouded in.
Also, read How to Write a Biography in 8 Effective Steps (Tips & Examples)
Ever had the saying ‘Writing helps in times of stress,’ then this is what it signifies.
Author Andre Aciman believes that the main reason why people write memoirs is that they desire a second chance to make another version of their lives. So, when you write a memoir, you are simply writing the version of what you think happened from your view.
The six things that should be included in a given Memoir
Here are some of the writing tips which would help you in your memoir writing;
1. Make a sensory experience
When it comes to translating your own experiences into something the reader can engage and wholly feel, it can be pretty hard. The best way to ensure that the first draft isn’t a bore is to fill your memoir with good details, details that can be almost felt. Then, make sure you use all of your senses to tell your story and transport the reader back to your pastor at that specific time and place.
2. Use Fictional Writing Style
It would help if you made your memoir writing as compelling as a fictional bestseller. Some may say, ‘this is my life experience, why do I need to make it so entertaining?’ The answer to this is that you can only draw your reader’s attention if you know how to touch that soft spot in them, that spot that makes them click with emotions.
In essence, make sure you recreate scenes with dialogue and build some suspense. Make sure you use the technique of showing and avoid rigorous telling, describe the state at the time, rather than seemingly reporting the events. This element would tend to bring life to your memoir writing.
3. Write every day
This may sound obvious in a way, but if you plan to begin writing your memoir, the best thing to do is write every day. Make sure to develop some routine. Select a place and time of day to write and be consistent with it.
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Do not forget to establish a minimum daily word count goal. And make sure you’re on pace to meet your deadline, and if you wish to self-publish it, make sure to set your deadline and stick to it.
4. Collapse your events and characters
It’s tempting to include everyone in your memoir, especially those who have influenced you in some way. But, in this part, it is essential to focus only on people and events that are majorly important to your story’s theme.
5. Don’t spill it at the start
The best memoir writing is those that don’t tell their stories chronologically—make sure you avoid this in all degrees. Most times, memoirists do begin with a compelling story or a moment in their life. Then they work their way back and fill in the blank spaces or those places that need to be addressed. This technique would surely pique the interest of your readers from the start.
6. Do not write your full autobiography
Don’t do it. After all, it’s pretty impossible to take millions of different moments from your entire life into one book-length account.
When you want to write a memoir, do make sure you focus on specific moments in your life, for example, a turning point that may have influenced the course of your life.
Step by Step Process on How to Write a Memoir
Memoir writing should deliver a powerful, real, and engaging opening from the start to the end of the first chapter. If you’re a beginner, do follow these steps below when writing a memoir;
1. Write A Book Proposal
If you wish to sell your memoir to a traditional publisher, you have to bear in mind that at some point, you’ll have to submit a book proposal. And provide all necessary details on the target market and your book place within it. A proposal also contains a chapter breakdown of your memoir.
Some authors are known to work with a ghostwriter to write their book proposal, and that’s even if they end up writing the manuscript by themselves. Not only do they benefit from the ghostwriter’s knowledge of the submission process, but they also benefit a great deal from the interviews conducted and all the instructions in structuring a good memoir.
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When working with ghostwriters on a proposal, it’s cheaper than a full ghostwriting project. It’s also one of the best ways to get the input of real professionals without paying them much to handle your project. So, this may be a good option if you’re following this path.
2. Catch the Interest of the reader from the start
A good memoir is known to pique the interest of the reader from the beginning. Create scenes and events that greatly influenced your journey. If you want to write a memoir, that’s a good great way to start.
3. Build some Trust
When it comes to writing a memoir, you need to know it’s deeply personal; you’re sharing this piece with strangers who know nothing about you and are willing to hear you out when it comes to your life’s journey. So, from the start, do tell your story just as if you’re telling a secret with the reader. Do it as if you’ve never told anyone. This approach builds some trust between you and the reader.
4. Enliven the Emotions of your Reader
Emotion is necessary when writing a memoir. If you’re poor at this, you are just writing. Make sure you write your first pages straight from the heart. In essence, do use languages that resonate with people on an emotional basis. If you are learning how to write a memoir, follow the above guide.
5. Do Include more than one story
Imagine you’re writing your memoir about your one-month trek in Antarctica. While the focus stays on your trip, you need to add the necessary things you learned along the way; you shouldn’t forget details like the ways of life of people camping or living in Antarctica and the people you talked to and mingled with there.
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You could also describe the climate, terrain, and history of the area. Not forgetting to share interesting snippets about the awesome stuff you found while there. And also, discuss your exploration of the goal of it all as you progressed along the journey.
Your readers wish to know about you and why you went to this place in the first place. Why did you start the journey? What prompted the trek? What do you gain in all of it? And many more. These are the kinds of vivid details which make up a powerful memoir.
In essence, narrow your focus when writing a memoir.
6. Add other Related Stories
Yes, this is a book about your life, but it won’t hurt if you back up a little of your own experiences with someone else’s or various people you’ve come across.
Knowing how to write a memoir includes knowing when your message will be the keenest and the loudest. But, of course, that can only be done with other stories from other people.
In essence, one of the best connections you can make with your readers when it comes to communicating in a memoir is to show them that it isn’t all about you. Some people have gone through the same stuff and came out with the same views of life as you.
For this part, you need to do extensive research; this could include an interview or two, not forgetting to possess the skill to be credible in your reader’s eye.
And yes, you’ll need to get consent from those you’re researching or interviewing so that you can have free access and include them in your memoir.
7. Just Write a Memoir one you’ll like to read
As you end your memoir, you need to have shown some form of personal growth or change. You are the protagonist of your story, so you need to add that much-needed effort.
This is to say that whatever experiences you had throughout your book will carry their weight when you describe how they affected you along the journey. And how it made you transform.
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This can be the hardest in memoir writing because it needs attention, sometimes in the form of being very keen. It needs you to write with an understanding of what your character might not have known then—at their particular age. This is why it’s important to learn how to weave in as many flashbacks or reflections that don’t break the fictional flow.
8. Do Focus Hard on the Details
You can take the lead from your favorite author and see how they write their narration and dialogue to play out their scenes. Do not forget to use direct speech often. It doesn’t have to be a hundred percent accurate; it only needs to capture the speaker’s personality and the goal of what is being said.
With these steps in mind, you’ll have enough inspiration to work your way through the very first draft of your memoir. If you are learning how to write a memoir, learning from others will help you to get better.
9. Do not Censor yourself
This is to say; you do not have to edit and write at the same time. You need to just…flow. If you are going to write and think of what a character of your story would say when done reading your piece, you’re on the wrong turn.
Do yourself a favor and ignore editing of any kind. Instead, do write freely without overanalyzing or judging what you’re saying. Then when you’re done with the first draft, head back with your editor’s cap on and make all of the changes you wish to make.
10. Never Give up
No matter the situation, never give up. However, do remember that every single writer had moments when they felt like giving it all up because they thought that no one was ever going to read their work.
I believe we’ve all gotten rejection slips one time or another, and we’ve all been stuck and haven’t been able to figure out how to write past the issues which come before us. We’ve all written draft upon draft, and we weren’t able to get it right no matter the situation.
The answer here is, keep going, be entertained while you write, and never quit. But, do remember this, someone out there cares about what you write way more than you do. Understanding how to write a memoir might not be easy, but with time, you will get better.
So, whether you’re starting to put pen on paper or dream of being published when it comes to how to write a memoir, it does take some through research, commitment, and craft.
My titbit before I do end here would be that if you wish to write a memoir, you’ll need to learn how to write a compelling story. And while all memoir examples are different, the best memoirs have certain elements in common, which have all been stated above in this article. So knowing what makes a memoir good is what you should use to craft your work.