Writing your memoir is a way to reminisce on all parts of your life–the good and the bad, the accomplishments and the failures.
It’s also a way to give your family and future generations a key to your life’s story so that they can better understand their own. Memoirs can even show people outside your bloodline who you were, what you learned, and how they, in turn, can benefit from your life experiences.
When we think about memoirs, we tend to think about the powerful, brilliant, and famous–people with incredible stories of achieving Herculean feats. It’s easy to conclude that our lives aren’t as interesting, and therefore not worth writing about. The truth is that anyone can write a memoir.
Fact is often more interesting than fiction, and everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has experienced rejection and overcome obstacles, only to encounter more resistance as they strive for their goals. This is the pattern of any story, and if you want to write your own memoir (and you should!), you need to have a good handle of the storyteller’s tools.
Here are four tips to help you start the creative, rewarding process of writing your memoirs:
Write an outline.
The best way to organize your thoughts is to write an outline. The outline serves as the skeleton of your memoir, providing structure and signposts for where more detail will be needed. The final product will probably not match your outline completely, but that’s OK. The outline will serve as your jumping-off point, and it will grow and stretch even as it helps you focus on what story or stories you want to tell.
Identify themes and use specific scenes to demonstrate those themes.
A memoir, like any novel, should have themes coursing through it. Themes are broad ideas or messages that often aren’t revealed to the author until he or she steps back from a draft and begins to see patterns. Second and third drafts are well served when the author uses them to further draw those themes out through the book’s scenes. Here is a long list of theme examples to help you start thinking about what themes might work their way into your memoirs.
Set the scene and use specific details to breathe life into your story.
This is a story about your life, after all. Certain details will jump out at you as you recall your experiences–don’t dismiss these as trivial. If you remember them, they meant something to you. Include the sights, sounds, feelings, and smells in your telling of the story. You don’t have to include every detail, though–just the ones that stood out to you. Sometimes one well-placed detail can bring an entire scene to life for the reader.
Use the scenes and stories you tell as a means of reflection.
Memoirs are different from first-person fiction, because you are telling true stories that happened to you. You were a younger person back then, and therefore you had a different worldview than you do now. Give yourself permission to point out how you’ve changed, what you know now that you wish you knew then, and reflect on your past experiences throughout the book. Writing your memoirs is a process of self-discovery, and when you let your readers in on that process, their experience is richer for it.
No matter what you decide to write about, remember that this is more than just writing a book. Writing your memoirs is certainly a challenge, but it is almost always a fulfilling process of self-discovery for writers of all skill levels. Some memories will be happy, while others will be sad. You may find an overwhelming number of emotions come over you in the writing process. As long as you are benefiting from it, keep going. Allow your emotions to color your writing, and always keep in mind that you are writing this for yourself. Only you can tell your story, and we hope these tips will you get started!