5 Starter Tips On Writing A Memoir

Two weeks ago I was invited to speak to my daughter Zoya’s fifth grade class about writing memoir.


Tip #1: Don’t do it!

If you want to write a memoir, be forewarned: readers love them but publishing houses are hard pressed to sign them. Of course, that doesn’t mean that memoirs don’t sell, but it does mean that memoir writers must work on platform building, and strengthening tribe readership, as they write. It can be daunting but it is essential. When you get to the book proposal part of your journey, you need to prove to publishers that your story will sell.

Tip #2: Don’t lie!

Possibly one of the reasons why publishers don’t want to buy and publish more memoirs is because several books deemed “memoir” in the past few years have been found out to be more fictional. Lying to create a good memoir taints the whole industry. You may not be able to remember your life’s story verbatim. That’s OK. Feel free to take some creative allowance building scenes and retelling conversations at pivotal points in the book. Just make sure everything you write about actually happened.

Tip # 3: Don’t rush!

Memoir books and teachers concur that in order to write a good memoir one must have perspective. In order to gain perspective, especially when writing about our lives, we need time and distance from the events which we hope to convey in a way that resonates with the reader. If a person hasn’t allotted enough time in her life to reach some sort of understanding or conclusion regarding the events of the memoir, she will be hard pressed to point and prod readers to universal truths that will apply to their lives.

Tip #4: Don’t assume!

Don’t assume your story will carry the writing. As was mentioned in Tip #3, a memoir, although about your life, is really about/for the reader. C.S. Lewis said that we read to know we are not alone. The memoir must connect with the reader. There needs to be a mingling of worlds, where a person reading your words stops and wonders how you knew so much about him.

Tip #5: Don’t wait!

If you want to write a memoir, don’t wait to learn all you can about memoir writing. My two best pieces of advice to the young memoirists in the fifth grade were: 1) write, even a little bit, every day, and 2) if you want to write and be good at it, be a voracious reader.

What are your thoughts about memoir writing? What’s been a favorite memoir that you’ve read?

14 Replies to “5 Starter Tips On Writing A Memoir”

  1. I’ve always written snippets of things during my life, generally emotional pieces written when I’ve been depressed or confused about life. I’ve kept them not really knowing what I would do with them. At nearly sixty I now know what I’m doing with them.

  2. Great advice! I deal with most of those suggestion every time I turn to my keyboard to write. Thanks for this post.

  3. The death of my almost 100 year old mother inspired me to begin my childhood memoirs, although, I am still trying to find that unique perspective from which I need to gather those memories. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Awesome as usual Gillian! what a blessing for these 5th graders to be inspired by your experience and knowledge! now, what to do with the stack of journals….

  5. I just wrote my memoir, and I am glad I didn’t rush. My life didn’t seem to be a story that I just HAD to tell until my late thirties, after more of it had been lived. If I had tried to make a story out of all those old diaries too early, it would not have worked. It’s good to know there are some things that are better with age!

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