How To Write Memoir Outlines

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how to write a memoir outlineDoes this sound familiar? A bolt of inspiration strikes. It’s time to finally start writing your memoir. This time your life story, the book you have picked up and put down a dozen times, is going to happen. Where are you supposed to start though? You need to know how to write memoir outlines.

Writing is a difficult process. A high-quality memoir, one worthy of publication, needs to accomplish a number of things. It needs to excite readers. It needs to elicit emotions. More than anything else, it needs to tell a strong story that keeps readers talking long after they’ve put it down.  

If you’re committed to finishing your book this time, you need some know-how before you sit down in front of the computer. Here’s a hint – these days, readers have really high expectations. They want memoirs that are not only well written but teach them something about their world.

You need information. Most importantly you need to know how to write memoir outlines. Understanding where your book is going is a great first step, but how to get there is just as important. 

Do I Really Need To Know How To Write Memoir Outlines?

In the writing world, you’ll see a lot of debate over how to write a book.

Do you plot it first? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

Hence the great debate, plotting versus pantsing. As long as people discuss the craft of writing books, there will be a debate about which of these is the right way.

I’m a plotter. Actually, think of me as more of a reformed pantser. I can tell you that even though I’ve seen the light and started plotting my books, I know a number of successful writers who fly by the seat of their pants. They sit down, start writing, and see what comes next. 

There is no telling what type of writer you will eventually settle into. Everyone’s process is different. In my professional opinion, learning how to plot and structure your first memoir is probably the best place to start. Making it up as you go along, especially when you’re new to the craft, is a real challenge.

For this reason, I think learning how to write memoir outlines is an especially valuable skill. 

how to write a memoir outlineHow To Write Memoir Outlines | Five Tips To Draft One

There is no golden rule for how to write memoir outlines. There are some tips, however, that if you follow them, will help you get your book started the right way.

1.) Know where you want to go

Memoirs are not like autobiographies. In a memoir, the subject chooses an important part or parts of their life story to focus on. You could, conceivably, write multiple memoirs based on a single life. Choose the part of the life story that the memoir is going to focus on.

2. Understand the book’s core message

Part of what drove you to choose that arc is the core message it contains. How to write a memoir often comes down to selecting the part of the life you want to focus on and really drill down to the main message. Is it a story of redemption? Is it about starting over? 

3. Brainstorm extensively

This is the fun part. Once you know what part of your life you’re focusing on, and you understand the message, it’s time to thoroughly explore. What happened during that time of your life? What incidents before (or after) connect to it? Get deep into your memory and stir up those memories. 

4. Find sources of inspiration.

I like to think of these as guides. As you’re brainstorming what incidents and scenes to include in your memoir, it may be helpful to find objects that remind you of that time. Do you have a box of old pictures? Maybe some letters? Sometimes music helps solidify a memory. Whatever it is, give yourself the right tools to help guide you along.

5. Create the outline thinking of it like a movie. 

I won’t go too in depth here, but it’s worth mentioning that structure is a critical component of writing. Movies are written to capitalize on viewer emotions. Books are much the same. How to write a memoir comes down to structuring the story so that it starts slowly, establishing the character, all the while building to an emotional crescendo. 

What To Do When You’re Stuck

Every writer should know that, regardless of how well structured your memoir outline might be in the beginning, you’re going to run into issues. Sometimes what had been your idea of a great opening chapter shifts to the middle. Maybe the idea for a climactic scene, after you’ve written it, falls a flat. 

What should you do if you run into one of these issues?

Before you go off the deep end, realize, these types of realizations happen to everyone. In most books, for most writers, there are many roadblocks. That’s OK – really. Even if you’ve plotted your book to the best of your ability, you’re going to need to remain flexible.

Learning how to write memoir outlines is a key skill. It is one you’ll likely need for constructing a successful book project, but it’s not the only skill you’ll need. Creating a bestselling book requires some flexibility. It requires the ability to adapt a plan. 

Don’t toss the first draft in the trash – even though you might want to. Instead, take a break. Distract yourself  from the problem of writing before going back again. Everything in the manuscript is movable. Nothing, until you actually publish, is set in stone. If that great first chapter is actually better as chapter three, redesign your plan to incorporate that instinct.

Sometimes finding professional help is the best plan. A developmental editor works with you to help elevate the quality of your manuscript, whether or not it’s finished. 


I hope this blog addressed some of your questions about how to write memoir outlines. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. 

Your guide to writing a memoirHave you always wanted to write your life story? Do you ever sit down to write but find you get lost? Do you struggle to get the story down the right way?

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I created this volume to be short and easy to read. My goal is to help you understand everything you need to know, from getting started, to all the reasons why now is a great time to write that book.

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Erick MertzHow To Write Memoir Outlines

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