How to Write a Memoir: Getting Started

Wondering how to write a memoir? Think theme! 

Many people pondering how to write a memoir decide it is best to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and begin writing away.

But the process of writing a memoir really should begin with a review of your stories, those amusing, dramatic, heart-wrenching or heart-warming tales you’ve been telling your friends or running through your mind for years.

Imagine laying your stories out on a table…

Then, pick up each one and review it carefully. What did it mean to you when it occurred? What does it mean to you now? How did it help you – or force you to – become the person you are today?

Next, mentally sort the stories into different piles according to where they occurred, how they affected you, who else was involved, how old you were, and so on. Continue to group and regroup your stories until themes begin to emerge. Possible themes include overcoming a major difficulty, finding love, surviving a loss and being changed by a relationship.

Don’t push to make themes appear: just keep sifting through your stories. The themes will emerge naturally. And as they do, you will probably answer the “Am I writing a memoir or an autobiography?” question.

#1 – Select your theme

Now, mentally sort through your themes. Don’t force the process; let the themes play through your thoughts as they will.

Soon enough, one of them will leap out at you. It will demand your attention; you’ll find yourself thinking about it over and over again. This will become your primary theme, your memoir’s through-line, the underlying idea that turns a collection of random stories into a powerful narrative.

For a more advanced discussion on developing themes, see Abigail Carter’s article on “Ten Tips for Finding the Theme of Your Memoir.”

#2 – Match your stories to your theme

Once you have selected your primary theme, go back through your stories and make two piles: those that work with your theme and/or naturally flow from it, and those that do not.

Be ruthless. Even if a story is a particular favorite of yours, if it doesn’t fit with the theme, it will stick out like a sore thumb and take the focus away from your overall message. Put it in the reject pile.

Yes, it can be painful to let a favorite story go, but remember that your goal is to create a powerful memoir – and that requires a seamless blend of theme and stories.

#3 – Now you can start writing

When writing a memoir, taking the time in advance to settle on a theme, then matching theme and stories, will make everything that follows much easier – and the results much more satisfying.

Now all you have to do is write your memoir! If this sounds like a daunting prospect, you may want to hire a memoir ghostwriter, who can help you through every step of the process.

How to write a memoir?

For more on memoirs and working with a memoir ghostwriter, see my “Memoir Ghostwriter” page. You can also learn about different ways of working with a memoir ghostwriter by reading “How Does Ghostwriting Work? Here are 5 Ways.”

If you’d like help writing your memoir…

Contact Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, the memoir ghostwriters. Use the contact form on this page to send us a message, or call us at 818-917-5362.

To learn more about ghostwriters and ghostwriting in general, read our “What is a Professional Ghostwriter?” page.