Today’s post is from Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing. It’s from a chapter that is simply titled “Memoirs,” which explores and explains the craft of memoir writing. Enjoy!
What is a Memoir?
Memoirs are personal accounts—true stories—based on narrow themes and specific topics. They are usually the length of novels or novellas; shorter works of this kind would be considered personal essays. Memoir topics focus on specific experiences rather than providing a broad life story (which would be a biography or autobiography). For example, one might write a travel or food memoir, which is an account of one’s personal experiences through the lens of travel or food (or both).
Memoir is an accessible form of writing because it involves sharing one’s personal experiences. While there might be some research involved, most content in a memoir comes from an author’s firsthand experiences. Research might involve referring back to calendars or diaries, interviewing others who were present for events that appear in the memoir, and some topical research. For example, a memoir about traveling through the rainforest might include facts about the rainforest, which would come from research. But the primary focus would be on the author’s experience in the rainforest.
Memoirs sometimes come under fire for containing inaccurate or misleading information. An author who misremembers events from the past might be forgiven, but intentionally fabricating details can do considerable damage to a memoirist’s reputation and credibility.
Memoirs almost always include the author’s family, friends, and other acquaintances, and this gives many would-be memoirists pause as they contemplate whether to put the people in their lives into the public sphere, especially when the details about them are salacious or embarrassing, or if they are simply private people.
But memoirs are popular with readers and can be therapeutic for authors to write. Memoirs about parenting a disabled child, living with chronic illness, or life in the military are examples of uncommon experiences that people can share with others who are having those same experiences or who are curious about them. This is why memoir is both therapeutic and a gift to a broader community.
Memoirs also provide public records of an individual’s account of events. For example, a director might write a memoir about getting a film made, or a politician might write a memoir about their public service. These memoirs can become useful research tools for the public, and they create a public record of historical people and events.
Memoir Writing Activity
Choose an aspect of your life that would be suitable for a memoir. It should be based on a particular subject that you’ve experienced firsthand. Jot down some notes, do a little brainstorming, and craft an outline for your memoir. Write the introduction or the first few pages of the book, and then answer the questions below:
Would you ever write a memoir? Why or why not? If you wrote a memoir, what would it be about?