May 15


6 Ways to Start Writing a Memoir

By Diana Raab

memoir, writing

by Diana Raab

You might have good intentions about wanting to write a memoir or feel as if you have a story to tell, but you hit a wall when it comes to knowing just where to start. Maybe someone has encouraged you or said you ought to write a book, and you do not know what to do with that compliment. Yet writing about your memories can be much like riding a bicycle; once you get your balance and get the bicycle moving, you will be well on your way. Of course there will be glitches along the way, but that’s all part of the process.

When beginning a memoir, people often do not know where to begin. They might just feel as if their life was interesting or crazy enough that they want to write about it and share with the universe.

Unless you’ve had things happen to you which were very out of the ordinary, most of us who consider writing a memoir are often in middle age. Usually, a memoir recounts a specific time period or set of experiences in the author’s life. Typically, a memoir also illuminates a single theme.

[box type=”info” align=”aligncenter” ]It can be helpful to think of writing a memoir as putting a narrow camera lens on a specific event or time period. [/box]

It could be about a childhood experience, an adolescent experience, a public service, an illness or something that will share a universal truth. Yet a memoir is not an autobiography; that is about an entire life.

Before actually beginning your memoir, it is a good idea to brainstorm with yourself by doing some preliminary writing. Here are six tips to get you started:

1. Buy a journal. This is a good place to record your musings. Ideas might come to you at the most unexpected times and it is always a good idea to be prepared. If you are pressed for time, you don’t have to write complete sentences, but do jot down your thoughts. You can always go back and elaborate at a later date.

2. Set a schedule for yourself. Writing is a discipline and following a set regime is extremely important. You need to find what works best for you: what time of the day and what days of the week. Let’s say you choose to write one hour per day. This is quite manageable, and you might find that you end up writing more than that. You should write every day, but if you can’t, then you should at least be thinking about your project. With so much technology available, it’s easy to jot things down or tape-record ideas. Sending yourself a text is also quick and easy option when you are away from your desk.

3. Start by making a list of pivotal moments in your life. This list could guide you and help you figure out the focus of your memoir. Plus, it provides you with ideas of what to write about each day, so that you spend your writing time staring at a blank page.

4. Pick a topic for each day. Give yourself an assignment. You don’t have to start at the top of your list, but make sure you pick a topic a day. For example, you could start writing about a childhood memory, like what you remember about riding your bike for the first time, or your favorite birthday present; or the day a sibling was born.

5. Start writing by reading what you wrote the day before. Sometimes this simply gets you into the writing mood and might also give you an idea of what to write about next. It also helps get you into the flow of your story. You might even want to pick up where you left off the day before.

6. Do research. Your memory will play tricks on you. Sometimes research can get you into the writing zone or jog your memory about an event. This includes speaking to family members, pulling out photo albums, doing research online. When researching the memoir I wrote about my grandmother, I called the few remaining family members and did phone interviews. I also went online to study World War I, in order to get a clearer picture of what things were like in her time. She lost both her parents to cholera in Poland, so I studied cholera. Your memoir doesn’t all have to come from your personal memories, in fact, it shouldn’t. Rather, use your personal story to illuminate and give the reader a larger sense of the past.

About the author

Diana Raab, Ph.D. is a memoirist, poet, blogger, essayist, educator and facilitates workshops in writing for healing and transformation. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology with a concentration in Transpersonal Psychology, and a research focus on the healing and transformative powers of memoir writing.

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