Writing Composition: What is and How to Write a Memoir

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This lesson teaches the student about memoirs, how they are made, and for what purpose. A memoir is a non-fictional, first personal written account of events and memories from the author's real life.
1. Memoir Class Outline 2020
How to Write a Memoir
Carole Webb Moore-Slater
[email protected]
A Memoir is your truth created from your memory and your experience.
Lisa Dale Norton, Author
Introduction. Writing a memoir is a process that requires planning and organization
in addition to creative thought and expression. This mini-course series offers an
organizational framework for how to get started and complete a memoir essay during
this time. Classes are interactive as ideas and opinions are considered, personal
manuscripts are shared and group feedback provided.
1. What is a Memoir
A memoir is a true story based on a situation that has special meaning or has impacted
and changed your life in a significant way. It differs from an autobiography in scope as
an autobiography includes an author’s life story beginning at birth. A memoir is a slice
of life or a snapshot, not a full life story. In this class, we will write a memoir essay.
Please note that a personal memoir can also be expressed through poetry, photographs,
artwork and/or a combination.
2. Getting Started (Organizing and Arranging Phase: Class 1 and 2)
a. You will need
• A main character.
• A situation that will be the core of your story with a collection of related
actions (or scenes) that happened. Emotional journey.
• A lesson learned. If there is no lesson, there is no story.
b. Select a targeted event that you have strong feelings about writing. It can be a
special experience or one that shaped or changed you in some important way.
Keep your focus narrow.
c. Before getting started, think about the following considerations because they
will have an effect on how you write the story:
• WHAT is the THEME or moral of your story? The theme will be like
thread that ties your memories together to keep them relevant as your
story unfolds.
• WHO are you writing it for?
• WHY are you writing it?
2. Memoir Class Outline 2020
e. Brainstorm. Reflect on memories around a situation you will be writing
about. Jot down brief details of scenes you remember. (Post-it notes and
index cards work well) The following questions might help trigger memories.
• Who was involved?
• When did it happen? Do you recall details about time period that might
have influenced what happened?
• Where did it happen? Do you remember details about location including
landscape or surroundings?
• How did this situation get started? How did it end?
• What were you thinking at the time?
• How did you feel?
• Was anyone else directly involved?
• Visualize memories in color and vivid detail
f. Review identified memories carefully. Select only memories that are relevant
to the specific theme of your essay. Memories that are not directly related
can be saved for a different story.
g. It is important to include research in the planning and organizing phase of
writing a memoir. If writing about your ancestors or sharing a story from a
different generation, historical information from that time period is
imperative to make your story believable and understandable. Resource
information can be found at genealogy websites and other reliable online
resources, in newspapers, at libraries and local county archive offices. Other
sources might include family stories that have been passed down through
generations or other gathered documents or letters. It is important that you
organize research and record reference citations and sources.
3. Let the Writing Begin (Class 3 and 4)
With organization activities completed, thoughts can turn to writing your story in three
parts: the beginning, plot, and ending. Review notes from the Organizing and Planning
phases, look over your memories and decide first where you want to BEGIN and END
your memoir. These are the most important features of a good memoir.
• The BEGINNING of your story must be compelling in a way that wants
readers to keep reading. You can start your memoir at any point in the
• With a beginning in mind, decide where the story will end. The ENDING
must weave the threads of experiences together to create a strong
conclusion. The character has grown, changed or learned a lesson.
3. Memoir Class Outline 2020
• The MIDDLE of story or plot are memories that connect the beginning and
end of your story together. It is the chain of cause and effect from
beginning to end that gives readers something to follow.
1. Establish a regular writing routine.
2. Tell the truth. Memoirs explore truth as seen through your eyes.
3. Writers get the most satisfaction from writing what we are passionate about.
4. A memoir is an emotional journey of feelings, thoughts and reactions.
5. Avoid editing as you write – you can edit later.
6. Let yourself go and write from the heart.
7. Your voice is your presence on a page giving it your personality and attitude. Each
of us is unique and we want to translate our uniqueness to the page. It helps to
write how you speak.
8. Write down what you see and hear as you remember details of actions or events.
9. Include background information to help reader understand events unfolding in
the story.
10. The setting includes details not only about the location, but also the time period.
11. Show Don’t Tell is largely about allowing your readers to interpret what you
are going through without just telling them. Think of an emotional moment and
describe your body language at that time.
12. As you edit content, pay attention to words in a sentence. An ACTIVE voice is
more concise, direct and bold. Writing in PASSIVE voice often uses unnecessary
words that are less direct.
4. What’s Next?? (Class 5)
a. Read class memoir essays and provide feedback.
b. Preserving old letters, articles, and other documents.
c. Brief summary of traditional publishing and self-publishing options.
4. Memoir Class Outline 2020
How to Write a Memoir that People Care About. An article in a writer’s blog written by
NY Book editors: https://nybookeditors.com/2016/03/how-to-write-a-memoir-that-people-
care-about/ (attachment)
20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History by Carmen Nigro, Managing
Research Librarian, Division of U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy. February 9, 2015.
https://www.nypl.org/blog/2015/02/09/reasons-to-write-your-family-history (attachment)
Why Narrative Family History is Best, by Biff and Nancy Barnes with Family History
Daily, an online genealogy resource. (attachment)
A Writer’s Guide To Defamation and Invasion of Privacy by Amy Cook. January 22,
2016. Amy Cook is an attorney who has focused on intellectual property and publishing
law issues for twenty years.
https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/defamation-and-invasion (attachment)
How to Write a Memoir: 7 Creative Ways to Tell a Powerful Story, By Brooke Warner,
September 2019. Brooke writes memoirs and is a publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress.
https://thewritelife.com/how-to-write-a-memoir/ (attachment)
Beginnings and Endings for Your Memoir by C.S. Lakin, February 2018. C.S. Lakin is a
memoir writer and instructor.
The Twenty Top Tips for Writing Memoir, by Marion Roach Smith who is an author,
memoir coach and instructor of memoir writing with online classes available.
Strunk, William Jr. The Elements of Style: Classic Edition. (R. De A’Morelli, Ed. 2017).
San Luis Obispo, California: Spectrum Ink US