Introduction

A memoir provides the author an opportunity to share one’s life experiences. This genre focuses on a central theme, rather than recording every life event. Memoirs help the readers gain insights.

The elements of a memoir, which help to communicate the narrative of the author’s life are:

  1. An emotional journey: The author goes through some type of emotional evolution over time. It helps the readers identify the struggle. Cheryl Strayed’s book “Wild” talks about how she survived the trauma of losing her mother.
  2. Obstacles: Overcoming an obstacle builds tension in the memoir which hooks the audience with the story. “Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel is an example of the same.
  3. Point of view: Memoirs are always narrated in the first person like I/we/ my language. This makes it subjective and personal.
  4. Theme: A memoir is knitted together by a common topic, lesson or premise. The theme is not the author’s life as a whole. It is a set of experiences that are critical moments of life.
  5. Truth: The most highlighted element in a memoir is the truth. The readers trust the memoirist that they would write the truth and if the latter violates that, it could be scandalous both on the personal and professional front.
  6. Voice: Voice is the specific style of the author. The way they express their thoughts, their word choices, and their storytelling approach comes under this. Upon completing a memoir, readers should have a distinct idea of the author’s voice.

This article will be the push you need to learn how to write a memoir.

Summary

  • What is a memoir?
  • What is the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?
  • Examples of Memoirs: For inspiration
  • A Step-by-Step Guide to Memoir Writing
  • Conclusion

What is a Memoir?

A memoir is an offshoot of creative nonfiction and it is a genre itself. To be a memoir, a piece of writing must be: nonfictional, based on a true life incident and written from one’s perspective. A memoir should approach a story, keeping in mind the human element. Evoking emotions and leading with a laugh should be the goal of a good memoir.

The first step in how to write a memoir is to behave as if you are sharing a secret with the reader that hasn’t been narrated before. Although it is nonfiction, it primarily focuses on facts like when-who-where-how of their life’s timeline. The author chooses a pivotal life event and tries to recreate it through storytelling. The word ‘memoir’ comes from the French word ‘mémoire’ or memory.

What is the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?

Based on the following grounds, an autobiography and a memoir can be distinguished:

  1. Structure: Autobiographies are mostly comprehensive because they narrate one’s life as a whole. They are chronological as well. On the other hand, a memoir curates a list of personal experiences to serve a bigger picture and is not necessarily chronological.
  2. Scope: Autobiographies don’t put stress on a life event or incident, while a memoir highlights specific times in the author’s life. It can be understood through an example of a CV and one single resume. The former is more like an autobiography and the latter represents a memoir.
  3. Style: An autobiography focuses on events, while a memoir prioritizes the author’s personal experience of those events. A memoir can go beyond the expectations of formal writing. This means that a memoirist can use fiction writing techniques as well to perfectly capture their stories.
  4. Philosophy: An autobiography emphasizes facts while a memoir is dependent on memories. Due to the unreliable nature of memories, a memoirist puts stress on emotional truth rather than facts.
  5. Audience: Readers prefer autobiographies to learn about the author’s journey. Since memoirs are more personal and intimate, the readers pick up this genre to experience a story built around specific themes.

The next section will serve as inspiration on how to write a memoir by focusing on how the famous ones were written.

Examples of Memoirs: For inspiration

The following books are great places to know how to start a memoir and to understand how to write a memoir:

  1. The Year of Magical Thinking: It deals with Joan Didion’s year of mourning over her husband’s demise. The book is certainly the best when it comes to grief. The writing is lucid, starting from the first page to the last.
  2. Just Kids: Patti Smith’s memoir is a classic coming-of-age bildungsroman. The book covers her move to New York and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. She has beautifully captured the energy of downtown New York in the late sixties and seventies.
  3. When Breath Becomes Air: Written by Paul Kalanthi, a young surgeon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The book is poignant and teaches us to cope with some of the most difficult human experiences. It highlights fatherhood and mortality.
  4. In the Dream House: Carmen Maria Machado’s book revolves around relationship abuse, and it is extremely candid and innovative.
  5. Running in the Family: Michael Ondaatje returns to Sri Lanka after spending twenty-five years in the United States to sort out his family’s past. It should be taken into account that the book was sold to readers as a ‘fictional memoir’.

Reading these famous memoirs might serve as memoir writing tips that work better than guides.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Memoir Writing

  1. Generate memoir writing ideas: Choosing one memory that feels the most emotionally thrilling should be the aim. Starting is the hardest, but once you get a theme and start brainstorming, you have given a form to your memoir.
  2. Begin drafting: Beginning with the event that one cannot stop thinking about, is the key. The motto of drafting is gaining momentum. Starting with an emotionally charged incident provides that drive we require for that burst of creative energy.
  3. Engage the reader from the first word: A classic example would be Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. It makes us glued to her story. Giving details and creating suspense should be the priority.
  4. Building trust with the reader: As we know, a memoir is a deeply intimate non-fiction book that one is going to share with the world. Hence, the author needs to build that trust with the readers.
  5. Opening with a dramatic moment: Sharing an exciting glimpse of what one is going to expect is a great way to start a memoir and keep the audience engaged. The pivotal moment in the story should be coming at first, coupled with vivid and sensory details.
  6. Keeping it relevant: Memoirs have a narrow scope, which is centred around a period of one’s life. Going with the flow should be the aim of a good memoir. One should avoid including unnecessary details and engaging in hyperbole.
  7. Be honest: Staying true to one’s narrative while respecting their right to privacy. You might include family members of yours, but it is important to hide or change their names. Only an author decides what needs to be edited and should deliver an honest story.
  8. Bringing out the emotions: A memoir should also approach a story which should connect with the reader on an emotional level. Using language which is lucid and simple is the key. Also, readers should be able to resonate with the writing.
  9. Writing the opening last: If you are experiencing writer’s block, remember that a memoir doesn’t have to be chronological. Therefore, it might be better to save the opening for last. Start by writing the part of the story that inspires you the most. In the course of writing, you’ll eventually discover the perfect opening and know exactly how to write a good memoir.

Conclusion

All in all, memoirs are specially written to share one’s personal experiences on a deeper and emotional level. It is different from an autobiography on many grounds, as we have discussed earlier. Lee Gutkin remarked once that memoirs are said to be true stories, which are well told and executed. So, what are you waiting for? You know how to write a memoir. Time to turn your dreams into reality!