How to Write a Memoir

Writing a MemoirWhen a person considers writing a memoir, they need to understand the difference between a memoir and an autobiography. While they are similar in nature, a memoir is a subclass genre of an autobiographical account of a person’s life. Quoting from the author Gore Vidal: “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.”

A definition from the website of The Britannica Encyclopedia: “memoir: history or record composed from personal observation and experience. Closely related to, and often confused with autobiography, a memoir usually differs chiefly in the degree of emphasis placed on external events; whereas writers of autobiography are concerned primarily with themselves as subject matter. Writers of memoirs are usually persons who have played roles in, or have been close observers of, historical events and whose main purpose is to describe or interpret the events.”


Before a person sets out to write their story, they should consider why they want to write a memoir. What will be the main premise? Will it be about a troublesome childhood, a success story, a rambling account of their life, or something else? Will it be published?

A memoir should not be written as a chronicle of events in a person’s life. It should be written in a casual style, from a first person point-of-view, much like telling their story to a friend. In contrast, autobiographies are usually written in a more formal textbook style, covering a person’s life from birth to their present age.

Some people would like to write a memoir of their life, but they are hesitant to do so because they think their lives are boring. Most people lead boring lives. Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes, won a Pulitzer Prize for writing a memoir about his life. He did not live an exciting life. The everyday events in his life, based on his perspective and his unique ability to tell a story about them, the dull events became notable experiences.

It has been said that writing a memoir is a lot like painting a picture. Instead of slapping paint on a canvas, an author can paint a picture by writing words on paper. The author stops frequently to admire the work, returns to refine the narrative, and continues to search for the right words to express their thoughts.

A memoir can even serve as a person’s legacy. A way to be known, understood and remembered.

Useful resources:

Popular memoir books 
When autobiography becomes memoir

Filed in: Writing Your Book

2 Responses to “How to Write a Memoir”

  1. Greg
    November 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    A memoir sounds cool!! I sure like the idea that it is more opinion and memories than actual details that have been fact checked!!! It seems like it would be a more friendly read too. And I’m not sure that most people lead boring lives. I think they just need to know how to tell a story!!

    • Melissa Contreras
      November 21, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      I personally really enjoy memoirs. Some of my favorites include Ann Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl”, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert, “Girl Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen, “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain,”Bossy Pants” by Tina Fey, and, on top of the list, “On Writing” by Stephen King.

      There’s something about a person telling their own story in a way nobody else could. You share a sort of intimacy.

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