The Top 6 Memoir Writing Tips
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.
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9 replies to “The Top 6 Memoir Writing Tips”
Great tips! #5 is one I especially need to abide by.
BTW…I am a fellow campaigner in the memoir group.
Thanks! Nice to meet you, Susan.
Alana: I love this! It’s so true, especially about worrying what others will say. I find myself tip-toeing around sometimes before I catch it and carry on. Great tips! Thanks 🙂
Thanks, Ruth! I think worrying about others will think is one of the hardest parts of writing memoir (and sometimes fiction, too).
alana its great to meet you! i am in your memoir group on rach writes. professionally i am an artist but i have a recently discovered passion for writing and have been blogging for about 10months with a great response! you are the 5th person in the group i have said hello to and the 2nd to mention books to improve skills! i feel so dense i never even thought of that!! i am beyond excited at all the possiblities for experimentation and improveent this opens up and already so thrilled to be a part of this campaign to connect with people such as you. I will be back regularly from now and cant wait to get to know you and your writing better. jane x
Thanks for the comment, Jane! Glad you’re finding my blog and the campaign helpful. The world of writing is a very exciting place to be.
just wanted to let you know i am following youin google reader. its the first time i have used this and wasnt sure it was showing up your end xxxx
Question: When you’re writing a memoir and you change the names of your characters to protect the innocent….do you have to change the names of places as well? The name of the company you worked at, the hotel you stayed in etc.?
Fellow Writing Platform Campaigner here just stopping by to say hi
You don’t have the change the names of towns unless you’re trying to protect the identities of people in those towns. You would be safest changing the names of companies you worked for, and maybe a hotel or restaurant if you’re saying anything negative. But my advice for first drafts is not to change anything and wait until the editing process to do so. I find it inhibiting to change names of people and places as I write.
Thanks for stopping by!