It’s Never Too Late… Write Your Memoir

Memoir-writing is not for the meek. Once you begin, you start to realize the enormity of capturing the essence of your story. Nevertheless, if you’ve arrived at that point in life where you feel compelled to write your memoir, it makes sense to pay heed to these internal cues. Now is as good a time as any.

To get started, consider the big question, “Why do you wish to write this story about your life?” Will it be for the general public? Will it be for your descendants? Is it simply something you’ve wanted to do for yourself as a way of reflecting back upon your life? Everyone has had their share of interesting experiences, triumphs, failures, and much that was in between.

An effective memoir conveys a true tale in a manner similar to that of a good novel, life. Writing a memoir, however, is not synonymous with writing your auto-biography or generating some grand list of your life’s most noble moments. Your memoir can represent a slice of your life as opposed to your whole life.

Drawing upon the skills of top novelists, compose a comprehensive outline to ensure that you’ve included all the key points, have the correct sequence, and offer the reader golden nuggets and observations that will yield a suitable payoff for them.

Bring the reader along in journey-like fashion and unlock the types of memories that help them to understand what you experienced and why it matters. What was it like being where you were? What motivated your behavior? How did you feel about the choices you made? What bits of universally beneficial wisdom can you offer? To aid you in composing your personal memoir, visit where you’ll encounter advice on writing a memoir, instructional videos, and other support.

Check out Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence, a guide to unlocking, recalling, and drawing upon the key memories that make up your life so that you can write about them in a way that others will find compelling. Another book, the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir, by Victoria Costello, offers an A-to-Z approach to memoir-writing and helps readers “create a memoir they’ll wish to share with others.”

Read memoirs that are already published. Visit your local library and ask about the most popular memoirs in circulation. What makes them so captivating? How does the author sustain your attention? Notice such attributes as the length of the book, the number of chapters, the sequence of chapters, character development, and time and setting.

How much dialogue is there? How much description? What is the author’s style–chatty, matter-of-fact, pensive? Not that you should emulate others. Simply recognize that, as with good writing in all genres, to be in the game, it pays to know what has already worked for others.

Here are more tips regarding your quest to write your personal memoir:

  • Stick to your outline. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You may know the whole story, but the reader needs to be taken along a path that can be followed.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Some days you’re not going to have the energy or focus you need to be at your best. Other days you’ll be fine. Sometimes you’ll find that writing is energizing, other times you’ll find it to be draining. Press on.
  • When you get stuck, do something active – action is invigorating and even if it’s not exactly the right action, it’s better than staring at a blank page. Write something, even to say “This part is difficult for me…” From that lead, breakthroughs might occur.
  • Use the power of technology when it suits you. Some days you may not feel like sitting at a keyboard. In that case, a pocket recorder or voice-actuation software can help make forward progress. The mere act of speaking your thoughts instead of writing them often leads to an outpouring of ideas and insights that may not have come as you labored along using the keyboard.
  • Take things one step at a time. If you’re 50, 60 or 70 years old, you didn’t arrive at that age all at once, and you’re not going to write your memoir all at once. Pacing is the key. Writing 1,000 words per day, roughly equal to 4 printed pages, is a possible target. At that pace, 70 such sessions over say a 6-month period will yield you 70,000 words – book-length material. Perhaps you’ll follow some other formula. One day, you will finish!
  • Few authors nail exactly what they want to say on the first attempt. Most good writing occurs as a result of substantial rewriting. Rewriting can take as long or longer than the original writing. Don’t be dismayed; great authors throughout history have traversed this path.
  • You can’t always recall everything exactly as it happened. It is more vital to both you and the reader to recall how you felt. Solid facts build a foundation for your story; the series of emotional truths make up its soul.

When it comes to writing, an even progression is nice, but rare. More often what happens is two steps forward, one step back. Some days you’ll think that what you’ve written is crap. For now, your mission is to assemble and save all the words and thoughts that represent the raw material of your memoir. Then refine, refine, and refine some more. It’s your story. Make it the best you can.

Jeff Davidson, “The Work-Life Balance Expert®,” is a professional speaker and thought leader on work-life balance issues. He is the author of “Breathing Space” and “Simpler Living.” For more information, go to