A Little More Memoir Encouragement

It was my great pleasure to discuss memoir writing in an recent interview with writer, teacher, writer coach, and friend Joan Raymond. Joan features an interview with an author each week on her YouTube Channel and covers all genres and aspects of writing.

For many years I have conducted memoir writing workshops and classes, and those who know me outside of those events have heard me say, “That’s a great story. You need to write that down.” They often smile and nod–or get a nervous look on their faces. Sometimes they say, “Some day.” Sometimes they say, “Nobody wants to read my stories. I’ve just had an ordinary life.”

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you no life is “ordinary.” We all have our trials to deal with and overcome and our triumphs to celebrate. Writing some of those shines a light that allows others who read our stories to get to know us better or to share in our memories. How many of us wish we had asked our parents about their lives while they were still around?

Writing our stories also provides us with a life review and validation. It brings back long-ago experiences and allows us to marvel at what we’ve accomplished and/or to be amazed we survived.

No matter what or how we write them, our stories will be precious to our families and future generations who may not have the privilege of getting to know us any other way. Our stories leave a legacy that can be passed down.

For a little more encouragement, and some memoir writing tips and secrets, check out Joan Raymond’s YouTube Channel to see my interview with her. And if you feel even the tiniest inkling of desire to write one story, get started! Your family will thank you.

~ xoA ~


So You’re Ready to Write Your Memoir

Your family and friends marvel at your stories. They have urged you — or perhaps pestered you — to write your memoir. Now is a good time to start. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Or lengthy. Or tell ALL.

[Close up of old typewriter covered with dust with it all began text; Getty Images]

Different from autobiographies, memoirs can come from a period of time, a slice of your life. They can be a grouping of life stories that depict you at different stages and times — your young life growing up; experiences changing to a new school, town, job; tales of your hobbies, travels, adventures — anything you want.

Be assured, your family will appreciate whatever you write. Your stories give them a snapshot of you, someone who’s important to them. Your stories are the keepers of their memories and relationship with you.

When Writing Memoir . . .

  • Don’t worry about how what you’ve written sounds. Just get it down. You can revise and edit later if you choose.
  • Be yourself. Write the way you talk, keeping your own personal flavor. This reflects who you are and where you came from. It humanizes the words on the page and lets your reader recognize your voice.
  • Make your story more than a recitation of events or an itinerary. Include your feelings and opinions. Talk about your relationships with family members, co-workers, school mates and friends. It’s okay to recreate conversations.
  • Include historical references.  Put yourself and your story in the context of history. Tell about historical events from your own point of view. Include how they affected you personally. Compare and contrast how things were before, at the time, and how they are today. How did it change your life? How have you changed and grown.
  • Include humor. Tell your readers about some things that made you laugh.  Awful or embarrassing times are much funnier in retrospect so include some of those events and tell what they taught or how they affected you.
  • Share a bit of wisdom—without lecturing. Now that you reflect on an event, what did you learn, what else could you have done, or what do you now see about the situation?
  • You don’t have to write it all from memory. Use photo albums, documents, old songs that trigger recollections, old movies, reunions. You can also interview others who were there.
  • Tell the truth to the best of your recollection. These are your memories, and they may differ from the memories others have of the same incident or situation. You don’t have to write everything or “tell all.”  It’s okay to keep some things private.
  • Remember the news story requirements: Who? What? Why? How? Where? and When?  Your story needs to answer these questions for your reader.
  • Read others’ memoirs and get a feel for the kinds of stories the authors include.

No one can tell your story like you can. You don’t have to be “a writer.” Just be you.

~ xoA


Beginnings, endings, and transitions


Two teachers I worked with this year recommended fire and heat at the beginning of our stories.

Writer, teacher, editor Dinty Moore uses the metaphor of a fire burning in the forest when talking about flash fiction and memoir. As a writer sparking a reader’s interest, you don’t have time to let them be a hiker strolling in the woods, begin to smell smoke, and investigate. The reader needs to be a “smoke jumper.”  You start them “at the edge of the fire, or as close as one can get without touching the actual flame.”

Julia Green says, “Start hot!” Begin with something compelling, perhaps a problem, conflict, or question. Maybe you start with an intriguing scene. In revision, the writer asks herself, “What have I given my reader that will make them want to keep reading?”

Look at the difference between these two openings of my mother’s story. The original, a meandering; the revision, the start of a scene.

A.           This was the day we’d dreaded, cried about, and feared.  Ironically, the      time had both dragged and sped by, but before we knew it, we were down to         “her day,” as the hospice nurse called it. Within 15 hours after my sister           Reenié arrived. 

B.       The hospice nurse sat at our mother’s bedside when my   sister Reenié and I rushed in at the care home where Mom had lived those last    three weeks of May 2003. 


Get out of the scene or end the piece at the right moment. Don’t linger long after the resolution or the answer to the question. When I went back to Mom’s Story, I realized I could cut the entire final paragraph to serve the story (and the reader) much better.


Sometimes paragraphs or sentences need to be shuffled around for smoother transitions.  Adding a sentence or two may help things flow. Putting in line breaks allow the reader to rest or reflect, or they move the story forward to a new time or place.

In my latest version of mom’s story, I’ve divided it into three sections with line breaks in between. First, there’s the scene where we get the word about her imminent passing and how to provide comfort care. Next, how the day went for all of us—what we (and she) did for her and for us. Third, afterward—how we handled a challenging circumstance and how we came to see it.

Paying attention to the beginning, ending, and transitions made a huge difference for my story, making it more accessible for readers and boosting my revision confidence.

How are you coming along with your revisions?

~ xoA