The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Your Memoir


 This blog was inspired by a series of missed opportunities. My name is Jim McCarthy, and my life has been blessed by associations with several remarkable people, most of whom have passed on to their just rewards—leaving behind no record of the details of their lives. None was a “Celebrity,” none was “Famous.” Most were as common as your next-door neighbor, but all of them experienced unique moments in their lives, specifics of which are now lost forever:

. . . A pre-teen Dutch boy in Indonesia who spent WWII in a Japanese POW camp, then became a Merchant Marine officer; emigrated to the US, married, and joined Hughes aircraft as an aeronautical engineer. Died at age 56 (complications of his traumatic youth?) . . .

. . . Son of a farmer and daughter of a lighthouse keeper married for 70 years; started in mid-depression, then raised six sons on the single income of a blue-collar civil servant.

The one I will reference most often throughout these posts is one of my favorite successes.  I’ll call her “Patsy,” and she may be the most remarkable of them all.  In fact, Patsy was the inspiration for this blog, and the process she used to produce her 150-page memoir is, in fact, the one I’ve chosen to recommend to all of you, because it is uncomplicated, easily managed, and very productive.

I was pleased with the results once I edited her manuscript, then proofread it and had it published. What astounded me was to see the therapeutic effect it had on the author herself, as she re-read it several times later it was published. In her 80s, Patsy found closure to the unpleasant moments of her childhood years. It was a worthy reward to a non-writer, who got started by just jotting down a few notes.

What is a Memoir? 

Your memoirs will be a collection of individual moments in your past life.  These are written records of anything you experienced: a single moment or event, or a period of any length—your first day at school, your college years, your honeymoon, or your daughter’s first Christmas.

The terms “Memoir” and “Memoirs” are often considered synonymous but, technically, the latter term is a collection of the former. The cover of Patsy’s book reads, “Snakes on the Porch, A Memoir.” Since each of its 20 chapters is a separate memoir, the cover might more correctly read “Memoirs.”

One way to get started with Your Memoir 

All you need to begin with is a recollection, a pencil and paper, and a place to jot one down on the other. The thoughts you record today need not connect with anything you wrote yesterday or be in any order; there will be time to do that later, in your “editing” phase. A later post will address that process, give you suggestions on the easiest way to do it, and add a few tips on what not to do.

Tips for Success in Writing a Memoir 

You can begin writing your memories as they occur to you.  Don’t feel you need to embellish each one before you move on to the next. In fact, if you start with a stack of 3X5 cards, you could just mention a thought you want to develop later on each one of them.

That will give you a good outline when the time comes to move your notes onto the written page. Patsy did this on-and-off for almost two years.  After that, the editing, proofreading, formatting and publication took only a few short months of free time.

Common Questions/FAQ About Writing a Memoir 

          How is a Memoir different from an Autobiography? An autobiography would be a chronological record of your life, at least from birth to the present, whereas memoirs are usually recorded in any order, and entire portions can be left out altogether. So individual events may focus on mostly the more pleasant or successful memories, while ignoring any darker moments. This blog focuses only on memoirs.

     Do I need to be a Writer? If you paid enough attention in the first grade to know how to put words on a paper, you have the same skill any writer, past or present, has started with. Even if you cannot do that (disabled? infirm?) recording your story is still important, and you can discuss the content of your work with someone who can write it down for you. “Content,” by the way, is a writer’s term to describe the text of a manuscript, blog, letter, etc.

   What tools do I need? Anything that records your thoughts. The first memoirs were written on animal hides and stone tablets, but laptop computers have pretty well destroyed the marble-and-chisel markets, and they’re a lot quieter. “Big Chief” yellow tablets and 3X5 cards are cheaper and more portable.

  Can I make money with my story?  Not likely, unless you’re famous for having found a cure for dandruff, or for mapping the coastline of Antarctica from your kayak. You could convert your memoirs into a fiction novel to make money, but then it would be more like many autobiographies and we’re only covering memoirs here.

   What is the cost? Anywhere from $1.25 for a pencil & paper up to your whole allowance, depending on what you plan to do with the finished product. In the earliest posts of this series, we’ll start with your first thoughts about what you want to do with the finished product. Some may plan to publish an e-book (almost free), a paperback (a little more expensive), or nothing at all. Any option is good if it reflects your goals and objectives.

   How old should I be before I begin? You are never too young to write a memoir but, if it is yours, it helps to have some life experiences to report.

Seriously, at any age you know people who have amazing stories to tell and, while they’re still in possession of their memories and faculties, what greater compliment than to encourage them to “spill the beans” for you?

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Writing Your Memoir

  • Anyone and Everyone can write a memoir because each of us is unique in so many ways. You do not have to be an experienced writer, or even an educated person to record the details of your story.
  • Follow this blog for FREE. Just leave your name and email address and you will find continued posts designed to inform you, and to help you as you find answers to some questions and problems you may encounter along the way.
  • You will find other followers in this community ready to help you with your questions, share ideas and experiences, and recommend solutions they have found useful.
  • Affiliate links: Throughout the posts you will often see links to tools, sources, and helpful references available to you.  I refer to a few of those as “Affiliates.” They are links to resources I use, or have used and have found to be reliable, and well-worth investigation. If you make a purchase using an affiliate link, this blog receives a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Those small payments offset some costs of running the blog which is how I can keep it free for you to use. Please see the “Disclosure” page for more details.                   The “Resources” page lists most links as they appear in the posts.

If you’d like a little help getting started, Click here to get your free copy of “7 Secrets for a Quick and Easy Way to Start Your Memoir”

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