Writing Wednesdays: How to Write Your Memoir (in a NOT Boring Way!)

Last week we talked about why to write a memoir and the different kinds of approaches. Now that you know what style of memoir you want, the next step is to start writing!

However, if you don't want to just start at the beginning and end at the end (the so-in-so was born on this date at this place style, which is usually boring), you need a strategy to get started.

Get out a piece of paper and a pen and mark numbers 1-3. Then think through your life or the life of the person you are writing about. What are the three most significant seasons of your life?

For example, for me, I put:
1. Having health problems, specifically getting diagnosed with Addison's disease and when Hope was born--preeclampsia, eeclampsia, seizures, fluid on brain, wondering if I was going to die.

2. Living overseas in several countries, learning about cultures.

3. Writing then speaking about human trafficking, my books becoming bestsellers and making a difference.

Once you have your 3 main seasons, under each write the word "Moment" and list the most striking moment you can remember within each of the seasons.  Again, for example, here are mine:

1. Lying in the MRI machine, wondering if this day would be my last.

2. The day a riot started while I was on the street in a rickshaw, or the time I ate cow brains. =)

3. The first time I met a person who'd been trafficked.

Now, in my opinion, these 3 seasons are going to propel the force of your book, but you don't just want a random collection of stories. People want to know why they are reading something, and most of the time, unless they're related to you, they don't just want a bunch of memories. They want memories with a purpose, a lesson. Either what you did right and learned from, or what you did wrong and learned from.

So under your 3 seasons, write the phrase "The main idea I want my reader to take away:" and then think through what the biggest lesson of your life story is.  Mine:

God's dreams for us are better than our dreams for ourselves, even when it feels like He is taking everything away.

Now you have a theme that will carry through your 3 seasons, and all the other things that will fill in the holes.

Write about your 3 seasons, starting with your moment and working your way through that moment. Next chapter you can give the more practical details like time and place and era.  For example:

I start the first chapter with me lying in the MRI machine, wondering if I'm going to die that day. The reader does not know any details of why I am there, what is going on, how old I am, etc. But if the scene is written well, the reader will be so taken into the scene that they want to continue reading to find out the answers to the mystery I have presented. The next chapter I would tell the full story of how I ended up in the MRI, then work my way through to the end lesson learned. Back and forth throughout that first third of the book, I will tell older and newer stories that go with this main idea.

Then I can move on to the next significant season, doing the same. You can even have a new theme idea for each of the 2-3 parts of your book. Perhaps even split the book into a before Christ and after Christ 2 parts. Or before you learned your lesson and after you learned your lesson. For me, my book would go something like this:

1. Start with the intense scene in the MRI, leaving the reader with the question, how did this happen and how did you get to this point?

2. From there I would go back to moving overseas, all my big dreams and ideals, all the while with the reader knowing it ends with me having a lifelong condition that will destroy these dreams and wondering how I am going to handle it.

3. After the international stories, some funny, some sad, with lots of lessons I learn from the Lord along the way, then the big wham comes, the health problems get worse, things get bad. This is the "climax" point of the book, the big crisis that will make the whole story go one way or the other.

4. From there is my person struggle with losing my identity, my having to rearrange my idea of who God is and how He can still be good when my dreams are dying.  You want to tell your story in a transparent way that readers can relate to.

5. After this is the climbing out of the hole and finding the sunshine again. My books on human trafficking, how they are reaching more people than I could have had I stayed overseas and done what felt significant to me.

6. Conclusion that makes my final point, bringing the whole story together under my theme, leaving the reader satisfied and hopefully changed for good.

Time to get writing!!! You can do this. In fact, I just got an e-mail last weekend by a woman who attended my seminar several months ago, and now her book is finished and on the market. I'm thrilled for her, and can't wait to read her story.  Let me know when yours is ready, too!

Any questions?

Related posts: Writing a Memoir People Will Actually Want to Read!


  1. Okay, now that I have finished Joe's book, I am ready to begin mine. I am working with a school called Long Ridge but fell behind while working on Joe's book. I have three books I am trying to fashion...remember the one I started last year about losing my vision. That's the one I am going to start up again, now that I have a lot more experience I learned from writing Joe's story. Thank you foryour insights.

  2. I remember the book on losing your vision. I think it will be wonderful, very meaningful. I look forward to reading it someday.


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