I get asked this a lot by new writers looking to share an account of their own life but are unsure where it ‘fits’ in the book world.
In simple terms, a memoir is part of your life (an hour, day, year, or a specific event/time). In contrast, an autobiography is everything from birth to death (or present day, especially if you’re a celeb looking to make a few bucks!).
There’s a growing audience looking for real-life stories. We love to connect, and we love to know that other people are experiencing the situations we find ourselves in.
My best selling memoir, How I Changed My Life in a Year, was relatable to middle-aged women worldwide. My readers wanted to know it was possible to make changes to their life. If a single mum with back fat and grey hair could do it, then so could they!
Unlike the fictional novels we love to read, a memoir is packed full of true-life moments. It needs to tell a story in the same way a novel would with conflict, characters, and narrative.
Where is your memoir set? Is it a story set around WWII and the various countries visited during that time, or maybe a childhood story where you moved around from town to town? Perhaps it’s one place and one moment in time. Make a note of all the places your story takes place, and begin to gather any reference material and resources you need.
Whose story is it? A memoir tends to be our unique telling of events even if they refer to other people. Are you the main focus, or are your characters family, colleagues or friends?
When deciding whose story it is, you’ll also need to think about ‘point of view’, which is the perspective you want to use to present your story. The basic POV options are:
Does your memoir have a topic or theme? In How I Changed My Life in a Year, I had a clear theme: the challenge to complete fifty-two New Year Resolutions in a year. Every memoir needs to have a core message (mine was motivation). There are usually other themes that run through your story, but having a main one helps your reader relate to what you are saying.
How can you figure out the theme of your memoir?
Brainstorm your topic and see which area connects to you or the person you are writing about (your ‘main character’ if you like). As in a fictional novel, your character needs to have changed somehow by the end of the book.
For me, it was all about pushing myself to complete the challenges, accepting the failures I had along the way, and learning who I was and what I was capable of. In Junkie Buddha: A Journey of Discovery in Peru by Diane Esguerra, two main themes run parallel, although one is more prominent than the other. This fantastic book follows the author’s journey as she travels to Machu Picchu to scatter her son’s ashes. It is a part travel memoir and part healing story for death and grief.
What conflict are you including? If you’re writing about abuse, surviving a war, or a similar topic, the conflict will probably be a driving force for the story. If, however, you are writing a travel memoir, self-help, or a light-hearted view of your industry, you’ll need to think about where you can include conflict in your story. Conflict doesn’t have to be horrific moments in time. It can be as simple as the ‘main character’ not getting what they want. In How I Changed My Life in a Year, I didn’t complete a few of the challenges I set myself. This is ‘conflict’. The reader can empathise with these moments and becomes your cheerleader when you do manage to succeed.
Before sitting down to write, it’s always wise to address the WHY of your project. I talk about this a lot with my book coaching clients and in my creative writing accountability club.
Having a clear goal as to why you’re writing this book focuses your mind. Let’s look at a few possibilities that you may relate to:
You want to share your story to help others. I would say that most transformational stories, personal development memoirs, and self-help books fit into this category. I know that Diane’s Junkie Buddha was her unique story, but it helped other grieving parents navigate their pain. Another fabulous example is ADHD & Me: What I Learned from Lighting Fires at the Dinner Table by Blake Taylor. Blake tells an honest account of how he navigated the good and bad sides of ADHD. If you have a powerful story, then this might be your why.
You want to be seen as an authority in your industry. Many authors write their business books in the format of a memoir. They share their unique view of the industry they work in, and they offer solutions to problems they know their target audience struggle with. After writing How I Changed My Life in a Year, I became known for my motivational escapades and developed a series of talks and workshops that I deliver to networking groups across the UK. Is this your why?
You want to entertain. Not all memoirs are transformational or business related. Some are written for the fun of it. We all have hidden memories and a host of amusing anecdotes that entertain us when we share them. Putting these into a memoir can offer relief to any reader looking for an escape from the mundane. Is preserving your family history, sharing confessions, or writing about important times of your life your why?
If you’ve read this post and feel more determined than ever to write your memoir, grab a pen and get started!
Before you rush ahead with enthusiasm, please take a moment to do some planning and think through the project you are about to embark upon.
Get rid of distractions – block time to do your research separately from your writing time. That way you can turn off your internet and phone when writing.
If you would welcome honest feedback, encouragement, and accountability as you begin writing your memoir, then my monthly Creative Writing Accountability Coaching Club might be the answer.
For £49 a month, you receive a 1:1 session with me (author and book coach) to work out your book outline or revisit old projects. You also get a monthly coaching call to discuss writing problems, ask questions, a group co-writing session, and a group catch-up call where we have a guest speaker from the writing, editing, or publishing industry. You’ll also have access to a private Facebook group where you can safely share your work, ask questions, learn more about the craft of writing and the process of publishing.