So You Want to Write Your Memoirs

For too long, you’ve been saying, “I want to write my memoirs.” But that’s about as far as you’ve gotten. You’ve not even had writer’s block yet–since to have such a malady you have to at least be a writer, and to be a memoir writer you have to have written at least one of your stories.

OK, stop fretting. Everybody has a story. You do, too. Here’s how to begin:

Write your reason for writing–your theme.

The first step in memoir writing is to decide on and write down your reason for doing this writing. Your motive for writing your memoirs is important for three reasons:

First, having a motive for writing helps you to decide what stories you want to include in your memoirs. Subjects you consider writing about can be good to include if they communicate your reason for writing and good to exclude if they do not.

Second, keeping your reason for writing in mind as you write keeps you on track during the writing process. If you have a well-defined reason for writing, you will be better able to focus on your writing, and the quality of your writing will reflect your excellent focus.

Third, if you intend to publish a book, you’ll want to interest publishers in it. Publishers of memoirs almost uniformly demand that your reason for writing be apparent in what they refer to as a “theme.” A theme allows a book to be classified and marketed successfully. A theme in memoir writing is important even if you self-publish since it would be nice if at least a few people buy your book on

There are many reasons people have for writing their memoirs. You may be writing yours for any one or several of the reasons listed below:

To leave a legacy for those who have come after you, just as you leave your money and personal belongings to your survivors in your will or trust

She wanted to leave her grandchildren with a one-word family philosophy. Here is the story she wrote: “My Grandfather

To influence your readers toward or against a way of life or a point-of-view

Here’s one example: “Something Else to Show I Care

To see more clearly who you are today

One of the best examples of this type of memoir in those I have edited is the too-short Am I Now a Wise Woman? Too short, and too lacking in detail, yes, but this story shines as an introduction to a book of memoirs.

To begin living your own life, having your own goals and feeling proud of your own successes, instead of measuring your life only in relationship to someone else

As an editor, I would love to work with a client whose theme is recovery from abuse or co-dependancy. I’ve not had that good fortune as yet, so do not have an example to provide.

To communicate what has made your life worth living

This sort of story may be conveyed without ever stating its intent. Here’s an example: The Power of “Yes”

To put your affairs in order

Even when your life is not yet ready for a conclusion and when your philosophy of life is in flux, you can make some order out of the chaos. Here’s one effort: “I Believe …

To commemorate a loved one

This is a common theme but is perhaps the most powerful one.

To be known and accepted

Almost every list of writing prompts includes this one: “The Word that Describes Me.”

To have a good time and entertain your readers

Ah, finally, fun! Here is Cows!

Settle on your reason for writing—your theme. Settle into it until it feels right. Write it down. Then, and only then, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Editing your theme

As you begin writing your stories, you may discover that you feel annoyed at your theme. It sounded good to you before you began, but now it seems not entirely accurate or too restrictive. Not a problem. Revise it. It’s OK to revise a theme any time during the writing process, though you may find that a considerably changed reason for writing means you leave out some of what you’ve already written and must write on different subjects.

Proceed to Writing Your First Story.