Everyone has a story to tell. Maybe you have hilarious memories that will make people smile, or an inspiring tale of overcoming difficulties that will motivate others.
If you want to put your story into words in order to inspire or entertain, you must first find the thing that makes your story unique and valuable.
Consider writing a memoir to share your experiences with readers and make your story immortal.
What Is a Memoir?
The word “memoir” originates from the French term for “memory.” Though it is often used interchangeably with “autobiography,” a memoir is much more than just a re-telling of your personal history.
A good memoir draws on select narratives from your life and uses them to build a common theme.
Unlike autobiographies—which usually cover the course of an entire life—a memoir should focus on either a specific period or a specific theme.
For example, if you want to write about how you overcame all the struggles life threw your way, you should choose specific, meaningful events that support that theme.
Think about your most important takeaways from these experiences and decide what you want your readers to take from them.
Two Unique Approaches
Before writing your memoir, decide which approach you’d like to take.
Do you want to recount the most significant events of your life that build on a common theme (like love and loss)?
Or do you want to focus on a specific period in your life, like coming of age when you moved to a new country by yourself?
Either approach works when it comes to memoirs. What matters is that you have a clear idea of where you’re going before you sit down and start writing.
Method 1: Choosing Events That Highlight a Theme
If you’re writing about events that span years or even decades (rather than a specific period), you should choose the most significant anecdotes that contribute to your main theme.
Think about the turning points that you feel are most important. Maybe they include the day you met your future wife, the night you gave up drinking, or the day you started a new career.
Only you can decide which events are most significant to your story.
Then, look back at these moments and think about some themes they have in common.
For example, former President Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, covers his early childhood years up until his entry into law school. However, he doesn’t cover every event that happened in that time; he selects anecdotes that build on his memoir’s overall theme.
Finding a way to connect your events with a common theme is essential. Otherwise, you’re just writing about random events from your life with no clear purpose.
But even if you aren’t a former president or film star, your story can still attract plenty of readers, because what will matter most to your audience is truth.
People want a story that they can relate to, and the best way to write a relatable story is by being as real as possible.
Method 2: Focusing on a Select Period That Highlights a Theme
Another approach you can take when writing your memoir is focusing on a select period.
One example that uses this approach is Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which focuses on her journey across Italy, India, and Indonesia.
Think about a time in your life that signaled a turning point or carried significance for you.
This could be when you left home for the first time and moved abroad for college, or when you decided to jump into an entirely new career. Or, perhaps you want to focus on how your life took on new meaning after retirement.
Whichever turning point you choose, be sure to include the most significant experiences and anyone who had a role in your transformation during this time.
Reflect on everything that changed for you, as well as the consequences of those changes.
Tips for Writing Your Memoir
If you want to write a memoir that readers will love, there are a few important tips you’ll need to keep in mind.
1. Find Your Purpose
Think about why you want to write a memoir in the first place. If you have a clear motivation, your writing will be better guided and more effective.
You might write a memoir to:
- Leave a heritage for your children and grandchildren
- Document the start of your business or organization
- Share wisdom with others who are going through similar struggles
- Undergo personal healing by confronting your past
The trick is to not only identify your goal, but to determine how your experiences can be of value to others.
Remember: you might be the subject of your memoir, but you should really be thinking about what your readers can gain from your story.
2. Choose Your Approach
Decide which theme or part of your life you want to write about.
You might focus your memoir on:
- Your childhood years
- The years you spent living in a certain city
- Your time pursuing a specific goal
By focusing in on a specific period or theme, your story’s purpose will become more clear.
3. Find the Emotional Turning Points
As you reflect on your life’s timeline, you’ll start to see the emotional turning points that really shaped your life.
Looking back on the major events you’ve chosen to focus on, think about how they changed you or helped shape your life’s path.
If you kept journals throughout your life, refer back to them so you can remember exactly how you felt in those pivotal moments.
This will help you find the inspiration to tell your story with renewed passion and greater accuracy.
4. Develop Your Theme
Why are the events that you’ve chosen so significant? What emotions or struggles do those moments share in common? What did you learn from those experiences?
Answering these questions can help you to identify a recurring theme on which to center your memoir.
Examples of some themes might include:
- Love after loss
- Accepting change
- Adapting to new circumstances
A strong theme will turn your memoir from a collection of events to a compelling story that people will want to read.
5. Use Vivid Language
Writers that show—rather than just tell—are the most powerful storytellers.
If you’re writing a memoir, this is essential to your success. In order to make your readers feel invested in your story, you’ll need to draw them in with vivid language.
Even if they can’t relate to all of your personal experiences, they can probably relate to how you felt in those moments, so appeal to their emotions by placing them in those scenes with you.
Start Writing Your Memoir
Are you ready to share your story? If you’ve already thought about which approach you’d like to take with your memoir, you can dedicate some time each day to getting your story down on paper.
Even if you don’t intend to publish your memoir, writing about your experiences can be a great creative exercise. You’ll also preserve your memories for future generations or even for yourself to look back on one day.
Have you read any great memoirs lately? Tell us about them in the comments below!