5 Tips for Writing a Memoir

By on Oct 21, 2014 in Special Features

tips for writing a memoir

Writing a memoir can be difficult for most writers, as it relies heavily on personal and emotional writing. This means that those who have staked their careers on unbiased professionalism and objectivity need stray into unfamiliar territory. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some tips for writing a memoir:

1. Don’t treat it like a journal

One of the more common mistakes that authors make when writing a journal is to treat it like their personal diary. The confusion is understandable as both are written works about oneself, but that’s where the differences end. A memoir is about your work and your life, but it’s not written entirely for yourself. It is meant to be read by an audience, especially if you’re planning to publish it. So avoid rambling or spewing stream of consciousness without even giving proper background.

2. Don’t pull punches

The way people’s lives and careers go, writing a memoir will naturally dredge up experiences and anecdotes that might hurt other people. The natural reaction to this is to skip things or change details. Don’t do this. You don’t have to be insensitive, you can change names or tweak certain details in order to avoid publicly humiliating others, but don’t censor yourself as it will be detrimental to the story, and will be completely dishonest, something that has no place in a memoir.

3. A memoir is different from an autobiography

Avoid making the mistake of writing a story with a linear chronology detailing the start of your life up to where you are today. Memoirs are meant to hone in on the essence of specific moments in time, as well as possible lessons that they contain. Allow yourself to skip time and ignore events that are meaningless to the readers.

4. It’s not meant to appeal to everyone

Some authors try to write memoirs with the express purpose of trying to catch the broadest range of readership, which results in a memoir that is too generic to have an appeal. It’s a variation of the old adage about pleasing everyone. If you try to make your net large enough to catch everyone, you usually end up with a net with holes so large that it ultimately catches nothing. Besides, very few people actually have careers interesting enough to have universal appeal. The only way most people can write a memoir with this mindset is if they lie and embellish facts. Don’t do this. Just target a specific audience and do your best.

5. Listen to your editor

Don’t be too attached to the things you write about in your memoir. Chances are your editor will require some scenes to be revised or even removed entirely. It is the editor’s job to present the viewpoint of the readers, so don’t ignore useful feedback just because you’re too emotionally attached to the events that you are writing about.

The above-mentioned tips will be of great help when writing a memoir and one last thing that you have to keep in mind is that there is no right time to get started. Writing a memoir isn’t about digging through treasure troves of memories, or taking out photo albums in order to piece together forgotten parts of your life. Even if you think you haven’t lived long enough yet, you can start documenting your life now.

Image credit: Seth Sawyers on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

Hiten Vyas is the Founder and Managing Editor of eBooks India. He is also a prolific eBook writer with over 25 titles to his name.