Tips You Need TO Start Writing A Memoir… Today

May 21, 2024 | Memoirs

Claim your Free E-Book

Memoir Writing: The Nine Things You Need To Know

Every writer knows the feeling I’m about to describe. You want to start writing a memoir, but the blank page stares back at you. Minutes tick away on the clock while the cursor blinks. 

Ever been there? I have and let me tell you, it can be quite discouraging. 

That feeling of discouragement is especially challenging if you come to the computer hoping to tell your story. A classic bit of writing advice tells us we’re supposed to “write what we know” and that will make it easier. If that’s the truth then why is getting started on your memoir so difficult?

I’ll start by saying that often repeated advice is not necessarily the truth. Writing what we know might seem easy. Sometimes, however, an air of familiarity in a story can present significantly more challenges than one we have merely imagined.

Whatever the reason you feel you’re struggling, getting started writing your memoir should not be a painful experience. If you’re persistent and keep a few valuable insights in mind, you can get over those early barriers and into a first draft you can be proud of.

start writing a memoir

You Don’t Have To Start Writing A Memoir At The Beginning

This is an all too common trap young writers often fall in. When we first writing our memoir, the presumption is that you start at the beginning.

Makes sense, right? Not so fast.

Every story features a beginning, middle and end (or, if you’re RL Stine, you’d replace the ending with ‘the twist’). But do writers write in that order? The answer is no. 

In my experience, few professional writers actually start at the beginning. Why do we free ourselves from this unnecessary constraint? Well, there are a few reasons. One is that the beginning might not be top of mind. It might not feel like the most important aspect of the story. Often, what makes a good beginning offers elements of confusion.

Don’t place this artificial constraint on your writing. If you’re just getting started writing your memoir, and the blank page is staring back at you, start where you feel inspired. Beginning, middle or twist. 

The Writing Isn’t Coming Out Polished

The scenario I’m about to describe happens a lot. Someone approaches me, asking if I would read and critique a sample of their writing. They feel that something is wrong. They’re not sure it sounds right. 

I sit down to read what they sent and you know what I find? A few pages. Maybe a thousand words. The writer has gotten started but they haven’t allowed themselves to get very far.

Why? I’ll tell you why. They’re listening to their inner critic.

Polished writing results from multiple drafts. Prose that sings comes only after you’ve written one version and worked through it, adding to or subtracting from that first attempt.

In recent days I have been in communication with a former client whose debut book is about to be published by a small press. Having provided two rounds of developmental edits at the very beginning, she offered this about working with the publisher’s editing team.

“You won’t even recognize the finished product when you read it,” she said with a sigh. “We’ve gone through three rounds of edits in the last year getting it ready.”

My two edits plus three more rounds? That makes five edits altogether. 

Polished writing comes because of process. It is not, contrary to a misguided belief, the result of raw inspiration. There is a good reason that after you start writing a memoir, your first draft feels like it needs work. 

That’s because it does.

I Told Someone My Idea. They Didn’t Like It

Our inner critic provides one challenging obstacle. Outside critics provide another.

How a writer seeks much needed support can be touchy. Unless you have an established, reliable network in place, writers and friends who know how to give good, constructive feedback, reaching out for help can provide as many obstacles as it can offer boosts. 

Listening to people is important; it’s not my intention to suggest you go it alone. But there is definitely a time and place for seeking support from your network. When you’re just starting out, writing your memoir for the first time, might not be the right time to cast that net. 

An unreturned email could feel like rejection. The furrowed brow when you pitch the story idea might come across as an indictment of the whole idea.

I think it’s a great idea to involve friends and family in your process. But do it eventually. When you’re first starting out, give yourself room to explore your story without looking for feedback. Once you’re confident in what you’re doing, that your story has legs, then look for that support. 

start writing a memoir

Start Writing A Memoir? When Does Anyone Have The Time?

Another common refrain, one that plagues every writer, regardless of experience. Our busy lives translate to a lack of time, space and ability to focus on the craft.

I’m not a life coach, although sometimes, working with new writers crosses over into that field. Something I often share is a bit of wisdom someone shared with me when I was just getting started.

“If you make something a priority, the results will follow.”

Asking the people in your life (think of your spouse, children, boss or other family obligations) to support your need for space to pursue writing can be challenging. For some people (I was one of these) asking for that is frightening. It feels almost like a betrayal. 

I certainly can relate. When I was just starting out, closing my door for an hour each day took a great deal of courage. I didn’t know if my then girlfriend (now wife) would understand. 

But then something very interesting and altogether unexpected happened. Once I had asked her for that time often enough, she felt a sense of empowerment in giving it to me. She started asking me, without provocation, “When do you want to write today?”

By making it a priority in my life, it became an invitation to her to support me. 

I Got A Start Writing A Memoir… But It Wasn’t Right

Let us circle back to the beginning with that bit of writing advice, what I’ve already postulated should not be the gospel. “Write what you know.”

I often meet young writers, about to start writing a memoir, at this difficult junction. Where they’ve started the story, written a great deal of it, but feel like it went the wrong direction.

“The beginning is all wrong…”

“I thought I understood what was happening but…”

“I talked to some family and they remember it differently…”

These are all legitimate feelings. Professional writers experience them too. Speaking for myself, I have written a dozen manuscripts where, after completing the first draft, I can apply any of these comments to it. Why? Because beginnings are tough. They have to draw you in. Writing is an exploration of emotion. Sometimes those feelings are wildly different in reflection. Even though the experience happened to us, we often tell the story “our way”. Our way, which might contradict someone else’s memory of the same moment. 

All writing, at least all good writing, is re-writing. Getting into that second draft is its own new beginning, one I hope you embark on with optimism. 

start writing a memoir

Bottom Line

You need to start writing a memoir because your story is worthwhile. Nothing heartens or excites me like hearing someone say they’re taking the plunge into writing for the first time.

If you’re standing on that brink, ready to take the leap, I encourage you to be good to yourself. At all stages. Especially at the beginning. 

We all know how to write. What you have to learn is the delicate process of becoming a writer.