How to Start a Memoir

 You start a memoir by engaging the readers.

  • Make them curious.
  • Make them smile.
  • Make them sigh.
  • Make them wonder.
  • Make them remember something from their own lives.
  • Make them worry that something terrible is about to happen
  • Make them wish they were there

If you can engage your readers from the start, you’re more than halfway home.

how to start a memoir

How to start a memoir – Many ways, one goal

Writers have wrestled with the “how to start a memoir” question since pen was first put to papyrus. And there’s no single right way. The primary goal is to make the readers want more. And that can be done in many ways: whether shocking or understated, humorous or dramatic, literary or plainspoken. In short, grab their attention any way you can! Here are a few examples:


  • “I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a dumpster.” – Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle


  • “I wish Giovanni would kiss me. Oh, but there are so many reasons why this would be a terrible idea.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray Love


  • “My mother died last night. We were there, my dad, my aunt and I. I felt like a midwife. My mom struggled.” – Kathleen Buckstaff, The Tiffany Box


  • “International baggage claim in the Brussels airport was large and airy, with multiple carousels circling endlessly. I scurried from one to another, desperately trying to find my black suitcase. Because it was stuffed with drug money, I was more concerned than one might normally be about lost luggage.” – Piper Kerman, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison


  • “When I was nine, I wrote a vow of celibacy on a piece of paper and ate it.” – Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”


  • “In Paris on a chilly evening late in October of 1985 I first became fully aware that the struggle with the disorder in my mind – a struggle which had engaged me for months – might have a fatal outcome.” – William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness


  • “Alpha Company was point that day – a hundred gaunt exhausted men, trudging through the jungle with their sixty-pound loads. The rest of the battalion, roughly four hundred strong, was strung out behind us in one long, ragged column. We have five hundred meters to go before we reach our destination – a landing zone called Albany – where we could rest.” – Larry Gwin, Baptism: A Vietnam Memoir


If you can create an engaging opening, you’ve already figured out how to start a memoir