1. Be Yourself – This may seem obvious, but the voice you use in your memoir is completely up to you. I suggest using your natural voice. You don’t want to write your memoir like you’re writing a third-person novel. Be engaging and present. Talk to your reader like you’re telling them a story that matters to you.
2. Be Descriptive – Include specific details when writing your scenes, especially if those details can root your reader in a particular time and place. Mention the TV shows you watched when you got home from school, what the sofa looked like in your living room, what exactly the kind of tree it was that you used to climb as a kid. Describe clothes you wore, hairstyles you saw around you, or even the type of perfume your mother always had on. Don’t forget to include scents and sounds.
3. Experiment With Tone – If you’re writing about serious things, give a shot at a humorous or wry tone. Or, if your memoir is humorous, try stepping back from the humor every now and then to reflect on the more serious emotions behind the events. You want to have a pretty consistent tone throughout the memoir, but the tone you start writing your memoir with may not actually be the best one for the material. Try playing around with the way you tell your story.
4. Don’t Worry (Too Much) About Theme – The first draft of a memoir is about getting the stories you want to tell down on the page, then looking for those thematic connections. Write the scenes you feel drawn to and go from there. Don’t limit yourself from the start. That said, it may help to start with an idea of the time in your life you want to write about or a general recurrent theme you’ve noticed so it doesn’t turn into a 500 page autobiography.
5. Don’t Worry About What Others Will Think – This can be a real memoir-killer from the start. A lot of people tell me that they’d love to write a memoir, but they don’t want to compromise their relationships with family members, friends, or partners. My suggestion: write it anyway. The act of writing these things down can be an incredibly helpful and healing experience. No one says you have to ever share it with anyone. But you may realize, while writing, that this is a story you want to share with the world. That’s when it’s time to start talking to family members about the idea. Some of them will be more understanding about it than you had expected, and some of them won’t. Just remember that you have a right to tell your story.
6. Read Memoir – I know everyone says that you have to read to be a good writer, but I feel like this is even more crucial with writing memoir. Most of us have grown up reading novels, so their structures and styles are more ingrained in our consciousnesses. But memoirs are not novels. Reading a lot of memoirs from a variety of writers is the only way to really understand the possibilities you have for structure, voice, tone, and theme within this genre. Memoirs serve a different function than novels. Your goal isn’t just to tell a good story, but to explore your life and reflect on true events. Learn from the experts, and don’t forget to pick up a few craft books too. My favorites are Write Your Memoir: The Soul Work of Telling Your Story by Allan G. Hunter and Fearless Confessions by Sue William Silverman.