Writing a Memoir – 17 Basics

1. AUDIENCE: Who is my audience? Is it aimed at family and friends or a wider readership? This is crucial and will help you determine your tone of voice, style, and content.

2. HOW LONG?  If you write twenty chapters at 2,500 words you’ll have 50,000 words, a good-sized memoir. Or is a shorter version more your cup of tea?

3. HAVE I GOT TIME?  A life story always takes longer than you think. How much time, on how many days do you have?

4. MOTIVATIONS: Why am I doing this? Motivations are important. Is it about self-discovery? You may well inspire others. Is it about legacy, to leave a contribution to family and the world?

5. RESEARCH: Details will ring true and engage the reader. Read other autobiographies and memoirs to get an idea of the genre and your own preferred writing style.

6. WORKING ARRANGEMENTS: Where is your work space? Is it quiet enough with not too many interruptions? Do you have all you need: stationery, reference books, a comfortable chair? Remember to back-up your work.

7. CHAPTER PLAN: An outline and chapter plan can be as succinct or as detailed as you like. It’s a roadmap but you can change it as you go – it’s not carved in stone.

8. TIMELINE: This is a reference document – a chronological list of important dates and information which might include house-moves, fond memories and conflicts. As you add to it, it becomes a work in progress.

9. THEMES: Is there a recurring idea, an underlying thread to your story? What’s your big idea? Surprisingly, your theme may not become apparent until you are part way through.

10. TITLE: The title and cover of your book are critically important. Spending time on exploring ideas, themes and design and is well worth the effort.

11. THE BEGINNING: A great opening will keep your reader reading. It must be dramatic or intriguing and compel your audience to want to know what happens next.

12. CHARACTERS: The characters allow your reader to relate and want to find out more.

13. ANECDOTES: You’ll have lots of these mini-stories. Could be a funny happening or a major turning point. With so many interesting episodes, is any life uneventful?

14. WRITING IT: Write it in bite-sized chunks to maintain momentum. Sentences become paragraphs, paragraphs become chapters – and you know what chapters add up to! Map out a writing schedule and a deadline and stick to it.

15. THE ENDING: Create a powerful, memorable ending. Wrap up loose ends and go for strong emotion. Harkening back to the beginning often works well.

16. EDITING: Don’t edit as you go – it’ll slow you down too much. Edit as a separate exercise, and be ruthless. For chapter headings in your memoir, titles work better than numbers. If possible, use a professional editor to help.

17. PUBLISHING: There are a number of further steps to turn your manuscript into a book. You’ll need to think about: photos, layout, fonts, cover design, internal design, back cover blurb. Using a professional graphic designer is well worth it. The next step is to go to print. Will you self-publish? A small print-run these days poses no problems.

Congratulations – you’re on your way!

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