How Do I Begin My Memoir?

“Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend to them than inspiration.” ~ Ralph Keyes

Have you decided to write a memoir but just can’t seem to get started?
Here are some proven methods of jump-starting the process.

When writing a memoir it is often difficult to get started. However, once you take the plunge and actually begin to write, the entire process can take on a life of its own. Here are some ideas that will help you to embark upon the very personal voyage of writing your memoir.

Find Your Story

Differentiate between autobiography and memoir. An autobiography tells your whole life story, while in your memoir, you share a selected slice of your life. Find that slice and tell the story that goes with it. Memoirists often choose to tell stories about pivotal events such as how a personal challenge was overcome. Even a simple story of this kind will hold universal truth. In her book Your Life as Story, Tristine Rainer suggests that in order to find a pivotal event in your life you can examine your life and find the six most significant episodes. If you do this, there is usually one that stands out as something to write about.

See, Smell, Touch, Taste and Hear

Go back to the period in your life that you have decided to write about. Find an instant during that time and remember what you were eating that day and what it tasted like. Think about the sounds you could hear. Was there the sound of water running, cars going by, a baby crying or neighbours quarrelling? What could you see? Think about detail, shadows, color and the quality of the light. Do the same for the senses of touch and smell. Write your story using sensory memories and your work will come to life.

Stick to Your Own Story

Make sure that you are telling your own story from your own perspective. It cannot be anyone else’s but yours. For example, you may want to describe how your father felt about something. Instead, write about your own response to what you thought your father was feeling.

Two Sides to Every Story

Make sure that your story is balanced. If you concentrate on the wonderful times and leave out the bad, your memoir will not be real. On the other hand, if you only focus on sad or gloomy events, your readers may find it too disheartening. Your life is two-sided and it is important to look at both the positive and the negative when writing about it. The contrast between the two sides is one of the things that will give your memoir an air of authenticity.


Rainer, Tristine; Your Life as Story: Tarcher, (April 13, 1998)

Zinsser, William; Writing About your Life: A Journey into the Past, Marlowe and Company, (April, 2005)

Related Articles

Tips for Writing Memoirs that Others will Want to Read

Writing Memoirs: An Exercise to get you Started

How to Write a Food Memoir

Writing Memoirs: Learning from Frank McCourt and Isabel Allende


Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email:  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.


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