How to write your memoir

Susannah Hickling / 22 March 2016

Think you’ve had an interesting life? Here are ten great tips for writing a fascinating and readable memoir for your family and friends - or maybe even for publishing.



Read widely

See how the experts wrote their memoirs by reading acclaimed pieces of work. Try Toast by food writer Nigel Slater or H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Get hints for writing and publishing from The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and Life Writing: A Writers’ and Artists' Companion (Bloomsbury).

Do your research

Remember more about your life and check facts by talking to your relatives and friends, revisiting places from your past and reading letters and diaries. Listening to music from the era, watching videos and looking at photos will help take you back. Discover more about wider events by looking online, in archives and museums.

Know your reader

If you’re aiming to publish your memoir for the world to read, you’ll need more explanation of events and people than if you keep your memoir for your family. If you are writing for those close to you, you might want to include more revealing or fascinating details of certain relationships.

Leave out the kitchen sink

A memoir is a snapshot of your life - it doesn’t and shouldn’t have to provide details of everything you’ve ever done. Hurting others is always a risk, so consider omitting some details to spare feelings. Never be motivated by anger or revenge.

Make a plan

Just as for fiction, you have to have a structure and narrate a story - with you as the main character. You don’t have to start at the beginning or write chronologically. Try writing up several events in your life and linking them. Note down chapter headings with a couple of sentences summarising the content of each.

Be disciplined

Try to write every day - perhaps for an hour at a certain time - to keep the momentum going.

Show not tell

Convey important information through dialogue and small scenes. Set the mood by describing the landscape or the weather, and include plenty of detail that will paint a picture. Avoid clichés like ‘I remember’ or ‘When I was young’.

Revise, revise, revise

Always rework your text. A writing group or online forum can offer vital input, as can friends and family. Your memoir should always be edited and proofread to make it as polished and error-free as possible. Employ an editor if necessary and make sure your memoir is visually appealing with a professional-looking cover – particularly if you’re going to publish it.

Consider self-publishing

It’s quick, you keep control and it’s the obvious route if you’ve got a sheaf of rejection letters. Publish as an e-book by uploading your text to Kindle Direct Publishing (kdp.amazon.com/) or as a print book via Createspace (createspace.com). A literary agent is essential if you want to publish your book traditionally.

Be your own publicist If you publish your memoir yourself, you’ll need to promote it. Create a marketing plan. Mine your contacts, such as local organisations, bookshops and schools, to give talks and readings, use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and set up a website.

For our in-depth feature on how to write your memoir, see the April issue of Saga Magazine.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.