12 Tips for Writing Your Memoirs

February 23, 2009

If you have ever written a friendly letter, you can write your life’s story.

Reading GlassesYour life is precious and shouldn’t be forgotten. Sooner or later, members of your family will want to know more about your life. In today’s uprooted society, your memoir can provide a link to help maintain family ties, traditions, and values. Here are 12 tips to get you going.

Tips for Writing Your Memoirs

1. Begin wherever you wish. Start with your birth and proceed chronologically, arrange information by the high points of your life, or plunge right into a dramatic episode. Think of your memoir as a puzzle: You can start with any piece, connect it to another and then another. Ultimately, you will find your way to a grander plan.

2. Highlight the important people in your life: parents, spouse, family, friends, special teachers and colleagues.

3. Write simple sentences that readers of any age can comprehend. Don’t be afraid to write in the first person.

4. Use humor, family sayings, poetry, quotes from letters, a family tree, snippets of dialogue you remember and even good recipes.

5. Include photographs, tapes, journal sections, news clippings, maps, diaries, drawings, anecdotes, statistics, songs, special awards and audio and videotapes.

6. Describe how you and your family solved problems when you were growing up. Kids are going through these same issues today. Your family may learn from an older generations’ solutions.

7. Should you include the troubled times? You decide, based on what you want others to know and remember.

8. Your hobbies reveal much about you. How did you get interested in them, and what impact have they had on your life.

9. Do careful research to discover the facts about your family history. Interview family members, especially older ones. The following documents can help with accuracy: birth, marriage, and death certificates, diplomas; college and high school yearbooks; scrapbooks and photo albums; bills, deeds, wills, newspapers, military records and passports. Do an internet search using selected family members’ names: Put both first and last name with quotation marks, click, and see what comes up.

10. Record your memories as they surface. Index cards are handy because you can arrange them by topic or chapter when you sit down to write.

11. Plan your memoir according to sections or chapters, and lead with a table of contents.

12. Prepare a rough draft. If you speak more freely than you write, talk into a tape recorder first. Read through your draft to see what needs to be pared down. Read sections out loud to yourself or to another person to see if the story flows.

I’ll cap my own memior with a statement of my philosophy on life: “I’ve had a good day If I have stimulated my mind, exercised by body, and done something nice for another person”.

About the Author
Nancy Shuster, M.A.T., is a professor emeritus of the Community College of Rhode Island and a TIAA-CREF participant
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