None of us get through life unscathed, but the good news is we can turn our biggest obstacles (and triumphs!) into a story that inspires others. If you’re ready to write your first memoir, we’re here to help.
In this primer, we’ll go over exactly how to start a memoir. These are the steps that will get you to your complete first draft, so buckle up and let’s get started.
This Guide to Starting a Memoir Is Broken Down by:
Step 1: Brainstorm your memoir’s topic
Lots of important things have happened in your life, but you can’t write about them all in one book. Start by making a list of all the potential topics for your memoir.
As you brainstorm memoir ideas, consider what themes in books or message you’d like to convey with your book. Do you want to provide hope and inspiration for others, tell a beautiful story of finding love, or something else?
Remember that the topics you come up with should be emotionally significant, unique to you and meaningful to your readers.
Once you have a good list of potential topics, start writing six-word memoirs for each one. This will help you to narrow down your choices and get a sense of the overall tone and direction of your memoir.
Step 2: Select the topic you’re going to write about
Now comes the hard part: choosing which topic you’re going to write about! Start by eliminating any ideas you don’t love so you’re left only with the ones that inspire you. As you navigate this decision-making process, it's essential to be aware of memoir writing do's and don'ts.
Next, it’s time to apply a few screening questions. Of the topics you’ve selected, which ones are likely to make the most impact on your readers? Remove any that don’t satisfy that criteria.
With your remaining list of topics, consider which one you’re most likely to finish a book about. Hint: its likely the topic you’re most passionate about, have the most information and resources to write, and feel you’re able to complete in a reasonable time.
Step 3: Flesh out your topic
Now that you’ve got your memoir’s topic selected, it’s time to add some context. This is a great time to make a mind map, which is a visual representation of connected ideas.
To do it, start with your memoir’s topic in the center of the page. Then create branches radiating outward with all the memories, lessons and takeaways that will support your story.
Take time to understand the connection between each of the elements on your mind map and make notes accordingly. This will help you tremendously as you begin to write your memoir.
Step 4: Group your mind map into themes
Now that you’ve figured out which of your mindmap ideas are the most connected to one another, you can group them into themes. Examples might include coming of age, family ties, loss and grief or cultural identity.
Each of these grouped themes will act as a chapter in your book. Yep, you’ve already figured out your chapters!
Step 5: Make a mini mindmap for each chapter
You’re not done with the mind maps quite yet. Now you’re going to make one for each chapter you’ve created.
Just like before, put your chapter theme in the center of your page, then draw branches off of it identifying the interconnected ideas, events and topics that support it.
Once you’ve done this, you have the outline for your memoir! Get it all on one page to guide you as you write.
Step 6: Select a working title for your book
We know what you’re thinking: it’s already time to choose the title for your book? Sort of. You’ll want to choose a working title, which is a—possibly temporary—title that reflects the content of your book.
Why do this now? It’s a great way to inspire you and help you hone in on the purpose of your memoir, similar to writing the thesis statement at the start of an essay.
We have a title generator to help you with this process. All you need to do is tell us a little bit about the memoir you’re writing.
Step 7: Create a Writing Routine
You’re likely excited to write your memoir right now, and that’s great! But the reality is you’ll have lulls where you’re not so interested in writing.
This is a totally normal part of writing your book, and not something to fear. Especially if you have a writing routine!
A good routine will give you the inertia you need to get through those low-motivation days, so you’ll always get one step closer to creating something you're proud of.
A writing routine is a very personal thing and can vary widely by the writer. But here are some general tips:
- Set clear goals for how much you want to write every day. Try not to stop before you reach that goal.
- Choose the hours during which you will write and make sure you’re at your desk (or kitchen table, or wherever!) writing during that time. No excuses.
- Create a space that feels comfortable and inspirational for you to write in. It should be free of distractions and stressors.
- Include a warm-up ritual. Sometimes it’s hard to dive straight into writing a book, but it's easy to spend ten minutes scribbling down literally every thought that comes into your mind. This is a great way to get the juices flowing and is meant to be messy! Only you will see it.
- Set up a rewards system for yourself. Don’t wait until you finish your memoir to celebrate. Take yourself out for a fancy coffee or something else enjoyable each time you finish a chapter. This keeps morale high!
Step 8: Find an accountability buddy.
Even with a solid outline and writing routine in place, your devotion to your memoir may wax and wane through the writing process. This is where an accountability buddy comes in.
Having someone to check in and share your progress with creates just the right amount of positive pressure to help you get the job done.
When you find your buddy, talk about how often you’ll check in, how you’ll communicate and what your goals are. Don’t forget to be honest about your progress here; your buddy should be someone who encourages you when you’re falling behind, not judges you.
Step 9: Start writing your memoir.
The moment is finally here! It’s time to sit down and actually start writing your memoir. The first day can be intimidating, so follow these steps for a smooth liftoff:
- Remind yourself of your intention for writing your memoir. Do you want to change the way a certain industry functions? Make a specific type of person feel less alone? Keep this in mind as you begin your journey.
- Review your outline, so you know what you’re writing!
- Make sure you’ve established your goal word count for the day. (And don’t stop until you hit it.)
- Don’t worry about perfection, or anything close to it. The first draft of your memoir is about getting your thoughts on paper, not writing something that’s ready to publish.
After you’ve finished writing for the day, take a moment to reflect on how the process went. Is there anything you’d like to change for next time? If so, make note of it. Also, make sure you know when you plan to sit down next to continue writing.
After that, go celebrate! You’ve started your memoir.
Step 10: Know how to get unstuck.
Feeling periodically stuck while writing your memoir happens. If you find yourself overwhelmed, confused or otherwise blocked in your writing process, start by taking a small break.
While too long of a break may derail your process, a few days away from your memoir can help clear your mind and let you see things from a new perspective. This is a good time to read (or re-read) other author’s books that inspire you.
Make sure to take good care of yourself during this time. Move your body, eat well and do things you enjoy.
When you come back to your book, you can try a few different approaches:
- Skip to a different chapter than the one you were working on previously.
- Explore various memoir writing prompts to boost your creativity.
- Change the environment you’re working in.
- Use a different writing medium (like pen and paper instead of a computer).
Remind yourself that in this stage of the process, judgment-free writing is key. Don’t worry about being perfect. Simply focus on getting words on the page.
Final Thoughts on How to Start a Memoir
Writing your first memoir isn’t always easy, but it is worth it! If you have a message you want to share with the world, we want to make sure that happens. At SelfPublishing.com, we’re standing by to help you write your memoir every step of the way, just schedule a book consultation to get started.