If you have already come up with some possible topics and/or themes for your memoir (if not, check out Writing your memoir – finding your topic and theme), here are a few tips on how to start writing your memoir.
Do some brainstorming
Start by picking out a key event, a series of related events, a specific period or experience or whatever inspires you to get scribbling, Write down as much as you can remember about your chosen topic or theme – names, places, dates, descriptions, conversations or any other details you can think of that will help you create your story. Take as long as you want over this – the more information you can recall at this stage the more you will have to work with. However, don’t forget that a memoir is not an account of your entire life. It is just a slice or snapshot of your life and so don’t worry about trying to remember or include everything.
Use story-telling techniques
A good memoir should read like a story but the basic elements of a story (theme, setting, plot, characters, conflict, resolution) may not all be relevant or necessary in your memoir so don’t let this inhibit or constrain your writing.
Some of the best memoirs have a fictional quality about them even though they are based on fact but they don’t necessarily incorporate all of the basic story writing elements. They do, however, incorporate the elements necessary to engage, involve and move their readers. Their stories have a beginning, a middle and an end and they use suspense, dialogue (this doesn’t have to be word for word) and descriptions of the settings, characters, events etc. to help bring their story to life.
Write in the first person
You are telling your story and so it is only natural that you should write in the first person. You are writing the story from your perspective and so it is your experiences, attitudes and interpretations that should come through. These may differ from someone else who was there at the time (for example, another family member) but that doesn’t matter. It’s what you remember, it’s your take on an event or time, it’s your story and only you can tell it.
Before you start writing your memoir think about your audience
The way you write and construct a story is affected by who you expect to read it, so before you start writing think about your audience. This may be just family and friends but if you have a wider audience in mind consider whether you need to add more background information to help put your story in context.
Write first, edit later
When you start to write your first draft don’t stop to edit as you go along – simply write down whatever comes into your head. If you interrupt the flow by stopping to correct spellings, grammar etc.. you may forget what you wanted to write or lose track of your thoughts and ideas. There will be plenty of time for editing and polishing your work later on. You may even find that more ideas and memories come back to you as you write so it is important to let your ideas flow onto the page without worrying about creating a perfect piece of prose (no writer has ever achieved that in a first draft).
Get a second opinion
When you have a draft you are happy with (and this may be after a number of revisions) give it to someone else to read. Someone else reading your story may well spot little errors you didn’t pick up on (typos, for example, are very hard to see in your own writing) and they may also notice inconsistencies or passages that don’t flow/read very well. Don’t be put off by constructive criticism. See it instead as an opportunity to improve your writing.