We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, ghostwriters and editors of memoirs, autobiographies, and works in other genres.
On this page you’ll find 12 of the questions people commonly ask us about memoirs and the memoir ghostwriter, along with our answers.
In days past, it was usually movie stars, athletes, and politicians who published memoirs, often with the quiet assistance of a ghostwriter. But today, anybody with an interesting story, a great passion, or a body of knowledge can pass on his or her legacy to family, friends, and the world at large.
If you can do it on your own, great! If not, a memoir ghostwriter can help you.
1. How do I write a memoir?
This question vexes many people, for there is no single approach; no preferred structure, tone, or predetermined starting place for your story.
However, every memoirist should begin by developing a strong theme.
The theme is the common thread that runs through your book, the central idea that holds everything together, drives your story forward, and allows your readers access to your mind. If you don’t already have a powerful theme, developing one will be among the first things your memoir ghostwriter does.
Once you’ve identified your theme, you can then select your “slice,” the portion of your life story that best illustrates the theme. And remember: the most powerful memoirs focus on a “slice” of the author’s life, revealing what the author was thinking as well as what he or she was doing. Simply recounting all the events of your life, or running through one story after another, is not nearly as interesting.
A strong theme plus a carefully selected “slice” can turn a grab bag of stories into a compelling memoir.
2. Where do I get ideas for my memoir?
Potential ideas are tucked into every nook and cranny of your life. But don’t just think about the funny, dramatic, or exotic things that have happened to you; think in terms of theme. Zero in on an idea, a question, a situation, or a challenge that can serve as a through-line for your story.
Some common themes are:
- Accepting change – We’re all faced with change as we go through life. Sometimes change makes us stronger, sometimes weaker. If you’ve lost a loved one, for example, you’ve had to accept the changes created by the void. Show your readers how these changes affected and altered you, for better or for worse. Then take your readers with you on your journey to acceptance.
- Belonging – Many people have struggled to find a place in society, in their families, at work or school, or in other important areas of life. If you have immigrated to another country, been bullied at school, or otherwise felt like an outsider looking in, you might choose the importance of belonging as your theme.
- Overcoming adversity – This country was built on the idea that it is possible for anyone to succeed, a concept that remains popular today. If you have worked your way up from poverty, survived abuse, lived with a terrible illness, built a company from the ground up in spite of naysayers, or otherwise overcome adversity, tell your story in such a way that readers can understand the mindset that propelled you to success.
There are many more potential themes, including coming of age, rags to riches, it’s a wonderful life, courage and honor, family struggle, good versus evil, embracing or rejecting your cultural heritage, romance, becoming a parent, going broke, sports, war, and a profound religious or spiritual experience.
For more, see “Memoir Ideas Are Everywhere!”
3. Does a memoir have characters, like a novel?
Absolutely! You are a character in your life story, and there are likely many more; some major and some minor. These people typically interact with you, they likely have dialogue, and they may have a bit of a story arc of their own.
For more, see “Bringing Memoir Characters to Life.”
4. What’s the best way to get started?
The process begins with developing your theme and selecting the “slice” of life you want to examine, as I mentioned above.
Then it’s time for your stories. Review them all, whether in your head or on paper, and select the ones that best fit your theme and “slice.”
These are not necessarily your funniest or most dramatic stories. Instead, they are the ones that flow naturally and smoothly from your theme, and are part of the “slice” of life you are presenting. Even though your friends may really enjoy one of your stories, it doesn’t belong in your memoir unless it contributes to the theme and helps your readers experience your emotions during that “slice.”
Yes, it can be painful to set aside a favorite story or two, but remember: a great memoir is a journey through the author’s mind, a journey driven by theme and “slice.” Anything else just gets in the way.
5. How do I begin my memoir – what words go first?
There is no absolute “best” way to begin a memoir. There are, however, numerous powerful approaches. They include:
- Recounting a distressing scene from the beginning of your life
- Casually describing a situation fraught with danger
- Describing the genesis of a horrible event that shattered your life
- Pinpointing the exact moment you realized that something was terribly wrong
- Describing what it was like before entering a potentially fatal arena
- Taking us to your lowest point
- Stating your philosophy
- Describing a dilemma that simultaneously describes your life
Your challenge is to figure out which memoir opening works best for your story. For samples of the openings described above, see “8 Great Ways to Start Off a Memoir.”
6. Is a memoir the absolute truth, or an interpretation?
A memoir is a piece of “remembered history” that presents a slice of your life, showing how a certain situation, time, place, or person changed you, for better or worse.
A memoir is called “remembered history” because it is understood that you are interpreting things as you saw and understood them, rather than attempting to write a complete, factual, and impartial historical account – as you would with an autobiography.
For more, see “What Is a Memoir?”
7. Should I write a memoir, or something else?
In other words, is it memoir or autobiography? The two are similar but they aren’t the same thing.
An autobiography covers your entire life, from birth to the present day. It is designed to capture all of the important people, facts, events, and dates, making it a complete record of your life.
A memoir, on the other hand, shines a light on your reactions to a certain portion of your life, highlighting the emotions that arose and the changes that resulted.
So are you penning an autobiography or memoir? There is a fair amount of overlap between the two, but they are different.
Your memoir ghostwriter can help you determine whether memoir or autobiography is the best approach for your life story. For more, see “Autobiography or Memoir?”
8. What do I do when I’ve finished writing?
Once you’ve finished, you take a little break, then begin again!
I know this sounds odd, but what you have when you’ve finished is just a first draft. It might be well done, but there is an excellent chance that you’ve only just begun exploring your life, your thoughts, and the themes that arise out of the clash between the two.
That’s why, when you come to the end of your tale-telling, it’s best to take a break, let your thoughts about your life drift through your mind, then begin again. It’s often not until you’ve written a few drafts that you truly understand the major themes of your life, and how best to present them.
For more, see “Once You’ve Finished the First Draft of Your Memoir.”
9. Do I need a memoir ghostwriter?
Many people are able to write insightful, delightful, memoirs on their own. Others need assistance. You may not know whether you’re one of the former or the latter until you’re well into the work. You can, however, ask yourself a few questions before beginning, such as:
- Am I introspective?
- Can I think thematically?
- Am I willing to “sacrifice” my favorite stories?
- Do I have a passion for writing?
- Do I have the time to dedicate to the task?
If your answer to all of the above is yes, you might be able to produce a wonderful book on your own. If not, consider hiring a memoir ghostwriter.
10. Will a ghostwriter handle publication for me?
It depends. Many ghostwriters limit themselves to writing the manuscript. Others will also write the book proposal you’ll need if you want to approach literary agents, and still others will manage the self-publication process on your behalf, if you prefer to go that route.
For a brief overview of what is required for standard publishing and self-publishing, see “Publishing Your Memoir: What Are Your Options?” If you’d like to study literary agent websites to learn more about their services, see “100 Literary Agents to Contact.”
11. What else does a memoir ghostwriter do?
Depending on whom you work with, the full list of ghostwriting services may include:
- helping you decide what to do with your book
- handling editing and proofreading
- writing your book proposal
- finding literary agents
- facilitating self-publication
- supervising the design of the book cover and book interior
- overseeing the printing process
- handling marketing and PR
For more on these items, see “Ghostwriting Services.”
12. Should I read some memoirs to see how it’s done?
Yes! There’s nothing like reading great books to stimulate your thinking. While there is no single list of the best works, you might try looking at these compilations:
- Oprah’s “The Best Memoirs of a Generation”
- The Washington Post’s “Best Memoirs of 2016”
- Barnes & Noble’s “50 Essential Memoirs”
- Daily Beast’s “The Best and Worst Presidential Memoirs”
- PBS NewsHour’s “The 4 Coming-of-Age Memoirs You Need to Read”
Let the journey begin!
Writing a memoir requires more than just arranging your stories in a pleasing manner.
Remember, a memoir invites readers into the author’s mind. Unfortunately, our minds are often cluttered and confused, stuffed full of dusty stacks of old recollections, odd facts, memories we dare not address, detours, brick walls, potholes, and black holes – plus a small number of treasured memories that gleam in the brilliant glow of mental spotlights.
Which, among all of these, will contribute to your theme, while revealing both the person that you were and the one you have come to be? This is a key question you must address before putting a single word on paper.
The process of writing a memoir should be a journey through your own mind. Ideally, it is a journey full of surprises, unexpected discoveries, and new insights, culminating in a new realization about yourself and a particular time in your life.
It’s the journey and the realizations that an excellent memoirist shares with the reader.
If you need bit of help…
Getting bogged down and feeling overwhelmed is part of being a memoirist. When you get stuck, read “Writing a Memoir: 7 Tips.”
If you prefer to have someone assist you, a memoir ghostwriter can help you sort through your stories and ideas, create your theme, and write your manuscript.
We are the memoir ghostwriters
The creation of your memoir is a labor of love. It arises out of a close collaboration between you and your ghostwriter based on many conversations—chats during which you and your memoir ghostwriter dig deeply and push beyond the obvious to discover the deeper meanings and larger lessons or insights you can share with your readers.
Naturally, this requires time and effort. But it’s the only way to uncover those gems locked in your memory, some of which you may not even realize are there.
Your story is unique: the roads you’ve taken; your triumphs and defeats; the lessons you’ve learned and those still to be mastered—these are yours, and yours alone. As master storytellers, we can weave them into a fascinating memoir that engrosses, informs and moves your readers.
We’ve had the pleasure of working on numerous memoirs, including the story of Princess Diana’s romantic final days on earth, the “dream come true” life story of an airline pilot, the tale of a Jewish boy who fled from the Nazis and made it big in America, and the roller-coaster rise of a couple who rose from near poverty to owning a two billion dollar oil business.
We’ve experienced the joy of seeing our work featured in major newspapers and on television shows in multiple countries. But for us the real thrill lies in pulling together a person’s memories and creating a captivating memoir. If you’d like to see what our clients as well as publishing VIPs have said about our work, please go to our Testimonials Page.
Our works include:
Let us help you turn your memories into a compelling memoir. We’re ready to have the first of many wonderful conversations with you; just call us at 818-917-5362.