How to Write a Memoir

Most of us are not taught how to live life, much less how to write a memoir. It can seem overwhelming to write your life story.

But the key to writing a memoir — as with any large project — is to break it down into smaller steps. Each step is a manageable, doable task. One day at a time, each step takes you closer to your goal. Once you get going, you can also look at 12 tips on writing memoirs.

10 Steps to Write a Memoir

1. Determine Why

Writing a memoir can be a daunting project. The clearer you are about why you are doing it, the more motivation you will have to complete it. Your reasons for writing a memoir may be to:

  • Leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren
  • Leave a legacy for you business or organization
  • Share wisdom with others who are going through what you went through
  • Heal or understand yourself

The reasons for writing a memoir are vast and varied. Knowing your own purpose and reasons will give you emotional fuel to finish your memoir over time.

2. Choose a Time Period

Determine which time of your life you want to write about. A timeline can bookend the beginning and ending of your story. These timelines might encompass:

  • Your childhood years
  • Your years living in a certain city
  • Your time pursuing a certain goal and its attainment
  • Time spent with a spouse or other loved one
  • Your spiritual journey
  • An overseas adventure

3. Draw a Timeline

Once you have chosen a time period, you can determine the major events that took place on a timeline.

You can literally draw out a long horizontal timeline and mark half-inch tabs along the timeline. Then, label each tab for each year, month or day, depending on the length of your total timeline.

For example, your timeline might look like this:


1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 and so on.

4. Mark Major Life Events

Mark your timeline with the major events that happened during that period. For example:


1955 1956 1960 1961 1962 1963

Met Fred

   Got married

          Tiffany born

                Fred went to war

                                Hank born

                                        Fred killed ...

Major life events can be birth, graduation, the first job, arriving in a city, falling in love, meeting a nemesis, getting married, starting a business, meeting a mentor, losing a job, having children, arriving in a new country, getting divorced, having an illness, meeting a spiritual teacher, winning an award, getting remarried.

This provides a chronological structure for your memoir.

5. Find the Emotional Turning Points

On your timeline, you can start to see the emotional turning points of your life. For example:


1955 1956 1960 1961 1962 1963

Met Fred

     Got married

           Tiffany born

                    Fred went to war

                                Hank born

                                        Fred killed ...

Fell in love

     Committed to love

             Experienced unconditional love

                    Fear about future


                                Grief and determination to create good life for kids

Another way to do this is to use a blank notebook and label one page for each year of your life. Fill in the major life events, emotional turning points and historical events of each year. Use that journal as a chronological record of your life from which to write your memoir.

6. Find a Theme

It has been said that the universe of stories comprises only two themes: love and change. All stories fall under these two categories. Every story, song, movie, script, play or tale is a unique and individual expression of love or change, or both.

What is your story about? What is the main theme? What is the main lesson you have learned from your experiences?

Your theme may be:

  • Love never dies
  • Never give up
  • Keep going for your dreams
  • You can heal your life
  • Small things are beautiful

You do not have to know the theme to begin writing your memoir. Often, it will emerge in the writing itself. But at some point, you will want to choose the main theme of your memoir and organize the details of the story around this theme. A good ghostwriter can help you recognize the themes of your life and draw out details to support the theme.

A theme transforms your memoir from a collection of events to a compelling story that others will want to keep reading.

7. Write Your Memoir

Start writing.

You can commit to a certain length of time each day. It might be just 10 minutes. Or maybe 30 minutes. It doesn’t matter.

You can also commit to a certain number of pages or words each day. It can be one page. Or maybe 500 words. It also doesn’t matter.

Once the mind knows it is going to write, it will automatically come up with more things for you to write about. Keep writing.

For more pointers, see 12 tips on writing memoirs.

8. Don’t Write Your Memoir

You don’t have to write a word to create a memoir. You can tell your stories to a:

  • tape recorder
  • software program
  • video camera
  • ghostwriter

Digital recorders can download your conversation directly into the computer. Speaking software recognizes your voice and turns your words into text. And a video camera captures your image while you speak.

You can also find a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter can transcribe your recordings, organize, write and edit your book. All this saves you time and energy. 

9. Think of Your Life as a Hero’s Journey

Many great classics follow the structure of the Hero’s Journey. This is the journey of a person from innocence to wisdom, self-doubt to self-knowing, that is born of tests and trials during an adventure.

Following the formula for a hero’s journey gives your memoir a structure to work from.

10. Find a Coach

It’s easy to give up. When we are alone, we can listen to our negative thoughts more than our positive thoughts. It’s not always easy to be our own coach.

When taking on a memoir writing project, you can find a coach by:

  • taking a memoir writing class
  • finding a writing consultant
  • hiring a ghostwriter

A good writing coach will keep you motivated and moving. When you are stuck or resistant, a good coach will offer solutions and guide you through the rough patches, so you keep going. You don’t have to do it alone. Contact us to find a writing coach and ghostwriter.

Related Resources

Read more about Conveying the Author’s Voice 

Read more about 12 Memoir Writing Tips 

Read more about Self-Publishing Your Memoir 

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