Top Menu

writing a memoir

Core Focus for Writing a Memoir

DL: While this post is geared to those individuals who are writing memoir for family and friends, if truth be told, this post will also be of great help to those who are writing memoir for a larger audience. Core Focus for Writing Memoir is about basics.

Five Tips for Focus for Writing Memoir!

Is your family one of the many whose history is at risk for getting lost to future generations because no one has written it down?

To celebrate November is Memoir Writing Month, receive our daily:November is Memoir Writing Month

  • Memoir writing tips,
  • Articles on writing your life story,
  • Action Steps to get you writing,
  • Links to keep-you-going info, and/or
  • Products to help you get your memoir written.

Join our FREE My Memoir Education today and receive a daily reminder. CLICK HERE.

The celebration begins on October 31, so sign up today.


Writing your lifestories—even just a few—is a great way to memorialize your family and to keep the experience of your life—and theirs—from being forgotten. The details you take for granted or consider obvious will most likely be lost to the next generation unless you make the effort to record them in writing.

Writing down a memory and sharing it with others is a way to celebrate your life and your family. Writing a memoir is not as hard as some people think—anyone who is willing to follow the few simple steps I will outline below will be off to a great start at writing autobiography or family history, but ou must focus for writing a memoir. More and more people—in fact, many who, at first, think they can’t—are succeeding at exploring, honoring and preserving their pasts in this way.

Follow these five tips for remembering and writing a pleasing and meaningful lifestory that will honor both your family and yourself and create a legacy for your children—or even the world.

1) Make a memory list.

A Memory List is a list of everything you can remember about the people, places, and actions of a particular memory, era, or “character” in your life. Anything you recall is important enough to include. Jot down 3-5 words for each item on your list (“royal-blue suit“ “scent of eucalyptus”). Your list will eventually be hundreds of items long.

Creating this list will stimulate you to remember more than you can now think possible. It will provide you with the details to make your story full and memorable. Once you have a memory list, you just pick an item and begin to write!

2) Show your story; don’t tell it.

Good stories engage us actively. Do this by recording action like a movie camera: show your “characters” (your family and friends) moving, talking and interacting rather than simply describing them. Write “She paced back and forth to the window, looking up and down the street for Jason,” rather than “she was impatient for Jason to get back.” Now really, which do you find more interesting to read!

3) Use all five senses.

Instead of writing that the room was “lovely,” give the reader details: color, style of furniture and curtains, lighting and decorations. Now, they can “see” the details for themselves. Use the other senses, too: smell, sound, taste and touch.

4) Use dialogue when writing memoir.

When you express thoughts and feelings in the “character’s” own voices, you make them jump right off the page. It’s okay to approximate or recreate a dialog especially if you take the time to remember unique phrases or pronunciations. Keep it short. (It will be more believable, honest and easier to write. No one will dispute: “I know you will do well,” my grandmother said.”) Do not, however, make us read long dialog. It will sound like you’ve created words in to put in other’s mouths—which you will have to do with long dialog.

5) Replace 50% of all adjectives with dialog, action, or setting.

You’ll gain vividness and immediacy as a result. Change “she was protective” to dialogue: “she said, ‘Don’t you ever, ever say that to my son again’.” Turn “she was angry” into an action: “she grabbed the plate and flung it against the wall.” Replace “we were poor” with details of setting: “The torn green and black linoleum square barely covered the center of the room.”

Many adjectives are imprecise and simply do not convey the same meaning to one reader as they do to another—”protective,” “angry,” “poor” are ultimately subjective and you cannot assume a common understanding with the reader. Use dialog, action, and setting to show more clearly what you intend to mean.

These five suggestions are among the most powerful—and easiest—to implement in your personal and family history writing.

Remember: practice makes perfect focus for writing a memoir.

If you want to preserve your personal and family history, you must write, write, write. Set yourself a time to write and honor your commitment to writing a memoir. Your great grandchildren—and perhaps the world—will be so glad you did.

Good luck and stay in the memoir conversation!

Action Steps

1. Reread your written stories with each of the above five suggestions in mind.

2. Make necessary changes to make your stories more interesting and believable.

3. Implement the above suggestions as you are writing memoir.

, , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

A gift for you...
...because you need to get your memoir written. This little book will focus you to complete your memoir.
  • Your memoir deserves to be written. We help people get their story down—right!
  • Writing a memoir or want to improve one you're working on? Download Memoir Writing 101: How to Craft a Compelling Memoir or Lifestory / 10 Steps and a Bonus.
  • Memoir Writing 101 comes with The Lifewriter's Guides, a biweekly "workshop in an email.".
  • If you are already a member of The Memoir Network, this e-book and others are available to you free in Member Resources.