- In The Glass Castle: A Memoir, Jeannette Walls wrote about her very unusual childhood and bizarre parents.
- In 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal wrote about growing up, with an emphasis on his relationship with his father, who died when Billy was young.
- In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion wrote about coping with grief after the death of her husband.
None of these wonderful memoirs required the authors to invent plot lines, characters, locations, scenarios or anything else; indeed, if they had, they wouldn’t be memoirs! All of the elements were taken straight from their lives. But the authors had to think of their personal stories in a different way, not just as a series of stories. Each of the memoirs painted a picture of a unique time in the author’s life, expressed emotion, built upon a theme, and ultimately showed how the author changed as a result of what he or she had gone through. Remember that the three things readers expect from a memoir are a strong theme, emotional engagement, and entertainment. These authors accomplished these goals brilliantly. And you can too.
What have you experienced?
Your own life is the source of endless memoir ideas. Just think about it for a minute. Have you ever:
- Loved and lost?
- Accomplished something in spite of great difficulties?
- Been abused or abandoned?
- Learned to appreciate nature or art?
- Risen above betrayal?
- Forgiven someone who did the unforgivable?
- Wrestled with right versus wrong or good versus evil?
- Taken a stand, despite the risk?
- Been a party to the creation of something wonderful, important, exotic, or profitable?
- Lost a child, ,parent or spouse? Or a friend? Even an enemy?
- Been so angry you did something completely out of character?
- Been through a war, either as a combatant or civilian?
- Found or lost faith in God?
- Been incredibly lonely or depressed?
- Had reason to be incredibly grateful to someone or something?
- Moved from one culture to another?
- Wondered if you were adopted because you’re nothing like your parents or siblings?
- Gone to jail?
- Looked back and felt incredibly bad about something you did or didn’t do?
- Tackled an impossible task, willingly or not, and succeeded? Or failed?
- Been a member of a group where you felt inferior, or superior, to the others? Or just an outsider?
- Cared for, advised or assisted, people going through difficult times?
- Traveled and seen or done things others don’t usually see or do?
- Immersed yourself completely in something, from baking to chess, your kids to your garden?
- Developed an incredible collection of something and spent years meeting people and going places to do so?
If you can say “yes” to any of the above, then ask yourself which of these experiences changed you profoundly. Those that have are possible material for a memoir.
Your life is filled with memoir ideas!
The list above contains just a few of the many possible memoir ideas. If you’re not sure what your memoir should be about, think through all that has happened to you. Ask yourself about the challenges, questions, hurdles, or insights that have arisen from your experiences. Your potential themes lie in your answer to this question.
For tips on your writing voice, see “How To Find Your Memoir Writer’s Voice.”
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.