How to Write a Memoir

People write memoirs to preserve for family and friends stories of personal and business success.

The most precious legacies we can provide others are not simply financial. They have to do with “how we did it?”—challenges and obstacles we overcame, opportunities we created and recognized.

Want to know how to start a memoir? Or better yet—how to write a memoir? Here are three keys:

  1. You don’t have to tell your whole life story.

Sometimes, the best memoirs cover a specific moment in a person’s life—starting a business, emigrating to America, finding one’s religious or spiritual path. Too often, people don’t write these vital stories because they believe that a memoir must contain every detail of their lives. This isn’t so. We don’t need to read about Aunt Enid’s divorce or how Cousin Chuck got into trouble that time at Princeton! Some stories are better left on the cutting room floor!

So as you approach how to write a memoir, begin with a memoir outline. Focus on the times and events that would be of maximum impact for your readers. And remember that while you have to tell the truth, you don’t have to tell the whole truth, if it would negatively affect the lives of others.

  1. The first draft is sometimes the therapy draft.

There is something highly therapeutic in putting a story down on paper. The only problem is that once we see the story, sometimes we gasp! We realize that not everything we wrote could or should see the light of day.

This is normal. I’ve seen it over and over again with our memoir clients. It makes sense to get everything out of your system—to put it all down on paper, holding nothing back. But that’s the therapy memoir draft—not the final draft. Once you’ve got the memoir there so that you can see it in black and white, the parts that need to be eliminated will be extremely obvious. Get the psychological benefit of putting the whole story down on paper, but then be judicious and only publish the parts that really deserve an audience.

  1. Often, being interviewed gets you better results than interviewing yourself.

When a client comes to me with questions about how to write a memoir, this is one of the first things I recommend. There are a number of reasons why it makes sense to have someone interviewing us instead of trying to write a memoir ourselves. First, most people have a sense of humility or modesty, and they find it hard to write thoroughly about their own accomplishments. It’s easier to be drawn out about such matters by an interested, detached third party. When we simply talk through our successes, it doesn’t feel like bragging—unlike when we write those same stories. So an interviewer helps in this regard.

Second, we don’t often recognize just how interesting some of our own experiences have been. It takes a listener to say, “Whoa! Slow down! What did you just say? Can you go into more detail?”

If you want to know how to write an autobiography, it’s pretty straightforward. You’re covering your entire life. It doesn’t have to be written in time order. Most autobiographies begin with a highly dramatic event told in cliffhanger style. Meaning that you get the set-up for the story, which might be a race, a court case, a hospitalization, an election – something dramatic. But if you want to find out how that story ends, you’ve got to read the entire autobiography.

Whether you are seeking to learn how to write a memoir or how to write an autobiography, one point remains constant.

It really makes a difference when someone else can ask great questions and draw us out on topics that we might not have recognized as being vital to the story. An interviewer almost always adds enormous value to the process of memoir writing.

At BusinessGhost, we have written business memoirs and personal memoirs for dozens of individuals. Many people have even “given” the gift of a BusinessGhost memoir to their parents or spouses as a birthday or anniversary gift! Is there a story in your family or career that needs to be told? Maybe we should talk.