Writing your memoir detailing the defining moments of your life can be fulfilling for you and for others when you reflect common human experiences. Autobiographies, which detail your entire life, are seldom of interest to others unless you’re universally famous. But memoirs that focus on defining moments can provide shared lessons. Memorializing your experiences by writing them down or recording them through audio or video leaves a legacy for loved ones and friends. By conveying shared experiences that illustrate how a challenge or defining moment paid off in the end, you provide deep insights about who you are, allowing readers that don’t know you to see themselves in the story and gain insights that are both entertaining and inspirational. When it comes to getting started on writing your memoir, approach it as you would any worthwhile effort in your life: stop worrying about the “right” way to start and just take that first step.
Taking the First Step: The first step to writing a memoir is deciding how you want to materialize it. Do you want to write your story in a notebook/diary or online? Maybe instead of writing it all down, you talk about your memories on video. There are many options to beginning this process and deciding which one works best for you is the first step. The next step is choosing a theme. Since the difference between a memoir and an autobiography is a theme, this is a very important step not to be skipped over. Although you are the subject and the story is about your personal experiences, you want your reader to see themselves as the protagonist. The reader must relate to your experiences and identify with situations that ultimately led you to overcome obstacles or feel certain emotions.
Focusing on Self-Defining Moments and Challenges: Because a memoir is a collection of defining moments or incidents in your life, choose specific times in your life when you were being challenged. Challenges transform us into different people, and they don’t need to be told in chronological order. When we tell the stories about experiences that changed us, it’s often only in reflection that we can see how different incidents in our past prepared us for greater challenges. Those experiences may be secondary to the point of the primary life-altering experience you’re highlighting, but they become an important footnote to the primary experience. This approach can create an appealing read for the audience by starting at an exciting moment, or maybe a lower point in your life, and building from there to help the reader feel the emotions as they go along this journey with you. Here are some helpful questions to start generating ideas:
- Family traditions: are there traditions you followed in your childhood that are still observed today? How did those traditions impact you?
- Is there a specific turning point in your life that you can recall? A time when everything changed? How are things different/better as a result?
- Is there a song that makes you think of a specific time in your life? When you hear it, do you remember where you were, what you were doing, or even what you were feeling at the time?
- Can you recall a conversation or interaction that inspired you or challenged you?
- Were there any “firsts” you found to be important turning points in your life? Who was involved and how did it impact your life?
- How about landing your first challenging job? It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to embark on writing your memoir. Don’t overthink it or obsess over saying it just the right way. The goal is to take the reader on a journey with real stakes and real emotions that pays off in the end for you and them in tangible lessons of how life helps us grow. In other words, just tell your story as you remember it from the heart.
Writing or Reflecting a Little Every Day: If you commit to writing a little every day, you’ll find that it becomes easier and more fun as you go along. Sometimes you’ll find that nothing comes when you sit down to write, so don’t force it. Just set it aside and come back to it later. Then there are the times when the words flow faster than you can write them down and you don’t want to stop. Just remember that at the end of the day, you’re doing this for yourself, your family, and future generations to come. If you speak your truth and are honest about the experiences and the lessons, others will see themselves in your life and find it a compelling read that helps them have a greater understanding of their own life.