The Basics of Writing a Memoir

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If you’re considering writing a memoir, you’ve obviously got a story to tell, but how do you go about it? Where do you start? Writing a book takes an awful lot of time and effort, and most people simply don’t have the skills or the spare time to tackle such a massive project. Despite that, new titles flood the market every day, with highly successful and ultra-busy business leaders, politicians, and celebrities also publishing their own books. So, how do they do it?

The answer is simple: ghostwriting. Most memoirs you see in bookstores weren’t written by the stated author—rather, a ghostwriter was tasked with telling their story for them. Since the client provided all the ideas and necessary material, they’re still credited as the author—the ghostwriter simply took those ideas and wove them into an engaging narrative.

Despite the many advantages of ghostwriting, you may still wish to attempt to write your memoir on your own. If you know what you’re doing, you can pull it off. Whatever life story you have to tell, writing it will follow a simple, tried-and-true process. Our post will cover the basic steps in writing a memoir that will captivate readers.

If you have a great story to share but no writing skills, hire a ghostwriter to help craft your book. A ghostwriter can turn your life experience into a compelling read.

Steps to writing a memoir

1. Let your ideas flow

Writing doesn’t actually start with writing. Before you put pen to paper (or fingers on the keyboard), take time to plan your book. In other words, start brainstorming.

Always remember the cardinal rule of brainstorming: There are no wrong ideas. Resist the urge to edit yourself while brainstorming. Not sure about something? Think an idea might be bad? Write it down anyway! The point of brainstorming is to get all of your ideas documented. 

Jot down random thoughts or phrases and any anecdotes you may want to share. Don’t worry if there are more notes than you anticipated because you won’t use all of your ideas. The brainstorming step is meant to declutter your mind, get the creative juices flowing, and prepare the ground for the next step. The only “rule” is to record your thoughts in a way that won’t have you struggling to understand them when you revisit them in the future.

Don’t stress if you have your notebook or note app open, ready to jot down whatever thoughts pop up, and nothing comes to mind. Creative blocks happen even to experienced artists. Take a break and clear your mind—take a walk, go for a drive, soak in the bathtub, or do some mindless chores, such as cleaning or washing the dishes. The best ideas often strike during such downtimes. Just be sure to record yours as soon as possible.

2. Organize your notes

Now that you have your thoughts written down, you need to organize them in an outline. The outline doesn’t have to be minutely detailed, but it should create a feel for how the narrative will flow in your memoir. This is the step where you start planning the structure of your book. 

There’s no one way to structure a story, so think about what you’re looking to share. What themes are you trying to cover? What messages do you want to convey? What’s the overarching story you want to tell? From there, you can figure out the best way to tell your story. Will it make sense to present your experiences in chronological order? Will your story build toward a theme or a message more clearly if it moves back and forth in time? Will it work best with a main narrative punctuated by earlier memories to provide more context at specific points?

If you’re unsure what type of structure will work best, create a couple of outlines. Once you see the ideas laid out in front of you, you may be able to tell which structure will best suit your story. 

Don’t rush this stage—it takes time to organize your ideas into a solid outline. As in the brainstorming stage, give yourself some downtime to allow your brain to chew on these ideas in the background. Start with the bare essentials, building up from there—you need a foundation before you can add in all the details. You can put together an outline in multiple rounds, refining the structure and incorporating extra details in each iteration.

3. Write (and then write some more)

You’re finally at the writing stage! This step, however, is actually more than one step. No author ever writes a book perfectly the first time, so go into this stage knowing that there will be many drafts, and your first one probably won’t be good, but that’s okay! The only thing your first draft has to do is flesh out the outline. To avoid overcorrecting yourself as you write, think of it as more of an ultra-detailed outline than a book—you’ll revise the content a ton, so don’t worry about the finer details at this point.

Take the bulleted lists and snippers from your outline and put the events and experiences into full sentences. These sentences won’t be your best writing, but that’s what editing is for. It’s more important to keep up the momentum than it is to write perfectly, especially in the first draft, which is also called a “rough draft” for a reason. 

When you’ve finished the first draft, you can go back and revise it. While you’re doing this, you might decide that certain events need reorganizing. You might rewrite specific sentences and whole paragraphs and add or delete entire anecdotes or sections. It’s easier to judge what fits well in the book once you have the first draft ready and see how all your ideas flow together.

After you’ve gone through multiple rounds of revision to make the writing as good as you can, it’s time to hire an editor who can give you valuable feedback for your subsequent revisions. Not only will an editor tighten up your writing and eliminate all the silly typos you overlooked, but they will also identify sections where your writing is awkward, confusing, or ambiguous and help you resolve the issues.

Don’t get discouraged if there are more drafts than you anticipated. The revision process is crucial to making your book as good as it can possibly be. It takes significant time and effort to write an industry-standard book.

There’s a quicker, easier way to publish a memoir

Writing a book is no easy feat, but if you’ve got a story you’re eager to share, then it’s worth sharing. If you have the time, skills, and drive to write your memoir on your own, go for it—you can be all the more proud when your book is gracing bookstores across the country. However, for most people looking to publish a memoir, ghostwriting is a far more feasible option. When you hire a ghostwriter, you get a professional writer who can confidently take your ideas, weave them into a compelling narrative, and use all the right words to hook your target audience. Plus, they’ll almost certainly finish your book faster than you would.

If writing isn’t for you, we’ve got you covered. Check out our ghostwriting service for memoirs and place your story in the hands of seasoned professionals!

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