How to Write a Memoir

how to write a memoir by Family Tree VideoHave you ever thought about writing down your life story for your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to know? Whether capturing your story for your family or a wider audience, writing a memoir is one way to ensure you and your story are remembered.

Below are a few things I’ve learned over the years as a Video Biographer that have helped me stay organized and on task when capturing a client’s life story. Perhaps a few will help you write a memoir.

~ Tips on How to Write a Memoir ~

Divide the process into three stages: 1) Planning 2) Content Gathering and 3) Editing . Below are tips for each stage.

1. Planning

  • Know your Audience
    Are you writing a Memoir for your family and descendants? If so, think about what you would want to know about your own grandparents and ancestors. What stories, information, delivery style, tone and so on would resonate with you? If your audience is the general public or your peers on the other hand, consider their perspective.
  • Identify your Goals
    What will your memoir cover? Will you include your entire life story or focus on a specific theme through? Will you include family history and life lessons? Writing your goals down will help you stay focused during the editing process.
  • Set a Timeline
    Do you have an end date in mind for presenting your memoir to your family or sending it on to a publisher? If so, work backwards from the date and set monthly, weekly and daily writing goals. Be sure to include time for breaks.
  • Create an Outline
    An outline will keep you organized, focused and make editing more manageable. Start by identifying general categories (childhood, young adulthood, career, etc.), then add sub-categories and then sub-categories under those.

2. Gathering Content

  • Write, Write, Write
    It’s time to let your thoughts and stories flow. Be sure to keep a notepad or voice recorder handy since memories surface in their own time. Leave one on your nightstand, in your car, kitchen, etc. Do not edit at this point. Just write.
  • What to Include
    Wondering what stories and information to include in your memoir? Check out these two articles: ‘The Stories That Bind Us’ by Bruce Feiler, NYT. and ‘The Power of Myth: The Benefits of Sharing Family Stories of Hard Times’ for guidance.
  • Memory Triggers
    Memories can often be recalled by stimulating your senses. Review old journals, photo albums, year books and family movies. Drive through your old neighborhood. Dig through boxes you may have packed away that contain memorabilia from your past. Search online for pop culture from your youth. You’ll be surprised at what memories come flooding back.
  • Visual Elements
    How to write a memoir by Family Tree VideoGather photos, documents and other memorabilia to enhance your stories. Visual elements add dimension and will connect you audience with your experience in a way words often struggle to do.
  • Stay Organized!
    As you gather content, be sure to label and file the material under the appropriate category in your outline. Organizing now will greatly help when its time to edit.

3. Editing

  • Prioritize
    As tempting as it may be to include every life experience,  your audience will find it overwhelming. Instead, identify the stories that support your goals and then rank each by importance. Not only will your content become more manageable but you will start to see themes and patterns emerge.
  • Stick to your Timeline
    While it’s important to stick to your timeline, it’s equally important to schedule daily and even weekly breaks. Writing an autobiography is an exhausting project. Setting aside time to clear your head will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and give you a fresh perspective when returning to write.
  • Stay Focused
    As you write your memoir, refer back to your outline, goals and audience often. I find it helpful to alternate between the details of a specific story and the broader story as a whole.
  • Outside Input
    It’s never easy to have an outsider critique work you’ve poured your heart into but a fresh pair of eyes can help identify weak spots. Ask a friend, family member or even a stranger their thoughts and what could be improved upon. While you may not agree, it will provide some valuable food for thought.

Need a little help writing your memoir? Consider taking a local or online class, working with a writing mentor or joining a writing group.

Writing a Memoir requires a great deal of time and energy. I hope these tips on How to Write a Memoir will make your process a bit easier.

~ Legacy Videos ~

Give your family the gift of a lifetime by capturing your life story, family history and memories in a Legacy Video.

Legacy Videos by Family Tree VideoHere at Family Tree Video we produce Legacy Videos, modern-day memoirs that weave a filmed (or Zoom) interview together with family photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia. The result is a beautiful “Moving Portrait” capturing you sharing your life story and memories – a gift your family will treasure for generations to come.

To learn more about capturing your life story in a Legacy Video, visit

Learn More


Family Tree Video, LLC
Legacy Video Production
(312) 402-6406

Susan Saunders

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