So You Want to Write Your Memoirs

For too long, you’ve been saying, “I want to write my memoirs.” But that’s about as far as you’ve gotten. You’ve not even had writer’s block yet–since to have such a malady you have to at least be a writer, and to be a memoir writer you have to have written at least one of your stories.


OK, stop fretting. Everybody has a story. You do, too. Here’s how to start telling yours:


“Why not?” asks George Redgrave on Flickr

Document your reason for writing.

The first step in memoir writing is to decide on and write down your reason for doing this writing. Your reason for writing your memoirs is important for three reasons:

First, having a motive for writing helps you to decide what stories you want to include in your memoirs. Subjects you consider writing about can be good to include if they communicate your reason for writing and good to exclude if they do not.

Second, keeping your reason for writing in mind as you write keeps you on track during the writing process. If you have a well-defined reason for writing, you will be better able to focus on your writing, and the quality of your writing will reflect your excellent focus.

Third, if you intend to publish a book, you’ll want to interest publishers in it. Publishers of memoirs almost uniformly demand that your reason for writing be apparent in what they refer to as a “theme.” A theme allows a book to be classified and marketed successfully. A theme is important even if you self-publish since it would be nice if at least a few people buy your book on

There are many reasons people have for writing their memoirs. You may be writing yours for any one or several of these:

–To give shape to your past and see more clearly who you are today

–To begin living your own life, having your own goals and feeling proud of your own successes instead of measuring your life only in relationship to someone else or to someone else’s values

–To evaluate your life in terms of what makes it worth reading about, and therefore what makes it also worth living

–To come to terms with your life, as part of putting your affairs in order

–To leave a legacy for those who have come after you, just as you assign your wealth and personal belongings to your survivors in your will or trust

–To influence your readers toward or against a way of life or a point-of-view

–To commemorate a loved one (for an example, see “Because Laughter Feels Right”)

–To be known and accepted for who you are

–To have a good time and to entertain your readers

First, settle on your reason for writing—your theme. Settle into it until it feels right. Write it down. Then, and only then, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

As you begin writing your stories, you may discover that you feel annoyed at your theme. It sounded good to you before you began, but now it seems not entirely accurate or too restrictive. Not a problem. Revise it. It’s OK to revise your theme at any time during the writing process, though you may find that a considerably changed reason for writing means you leave out some of what you’ve already written and must write on different subjects.

Proceed to Writing Your First Story.


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