How to Write Memoirs

Writing your memoirs draws on your imagination as well as on your memory. However skilled you are (or aren’t) at writing, people who have known you or who lived through some of the same eras you did (initially the sixties for me) will be interested in what you have to say.

And if you suspect your writing might be pretty bad, it’s worth having it edited. As a lifelong writer, I rely on friends and family to lightly edit my stuff, but first I catch a lot of typos and places that need to be clearer, simply by reading my draft aloud and making changes as I go.

Do keep in mind the difference between memoirs, which can be about some part of your life, and autobiographies, which tend to start with birth and go on chronologically until now. With readers enjoying short books more than ever, memoirs are more popular than they used to be.

I’m doing a set of memoirs because I’ve had a varied life and different people will enjoy different parts of it.The three memoirs that I’ve published already cover:

  • my going around the world when I was nineteen
  • spending the next summer on a work camp in Sierra Leone, West Africa
  • being a research subject who took LSD right after I graduated from college in 1964.

If that isn’t enough variety, my next one will be about being the daughter of science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith. I’m really loooking forward to the one after that, about falling in love with a hippie. (Secret hint: I’m still with him after many decades.) Later ones will be based on books and websites I’ve done, about having a llama ranch, about the dogs I’ve had and trained, and about living in Mexico. Since I’m already 77, the series may wrap up with one about being an old lady.

Aren’t Memoirs Just for Famous People?

Mostly the big publishing companies stick to famous movie stars, political figures, sports figures, and the like. But Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a bestselling memoir called Eat, Pray, Love. She wasn’t famous before it came out.

if you self-publish, and if you are willing to do some work to get your book out into the world, you don’t have to be famous.  I’m not famous.

Choosing a Genre for a Memoir

If you go to you can find out what the world of memoirs looks like. If you live outside the US, I’d suggest you start at and then also do the same process for the Amazon people in your country mstly use.

So once at the big A, go to BOOKS or to KINDLE STORE and then type in memoirs. When I did this just now, I was surprised that it listed over 40,000 titles for books and over 50,000 more for ebooks in the Kindle store. (I am guessing that a lot of people write their memoirs as Kindles and don’t take the trouble to also make them physical books.)

Be warned that if you like to read memoirs as much I do, you may get sidetracked into buying some items or adding them to your wish list. I used to check things in the catalog of my local public library but recently I found an extension for Chrome called Library Extension, and now I can tell right away inside if my library has a book. This has saved me some time and money.

Some memoirs I can read for free directly from Amazon if they are in the Kindle Unlimited program, also called simply KU. In fact, another tab worth opening in your browser would be Amazon > Kindle Store > Kindle Unlimited > Biographies & Memoirs > Memoirs.

Once in memoirs, look through the first titles. A lot of them will be famous people, but don’t get discouraged. There will also be plenty of memoirs about sexual harassment, drugs, crime, and other such events. If your memoir would be of this sort, take a good look at these. Happily for my life if not for my chances of bestsellerdom, none of my memoirs fit there.

You May Know What Your Memoir Will Be About

Choosing a genre may not be necessary if you already know your topic, whether it is your memory of dog training or watercolor art. With topics where a how-to book might sell well, you can look around at Amazon and decide whether your book should be a how-to embellished with your stories or a memoir.

Your Writing Process: Some Tips

  1. Make notes or outlines.
  2. Practice dictating into your laptop and see if you prefer that to typing.
  3. Create a schedule for when during the week and during the day you will work on your memoirs. If you can’t stick to it, experiment with it.
  4. Find a friend or family member who wants to read what you write as it comes out. Choose someone who won’t be too critical at this early stage.

I could say more about how to write memoirs but I’ll save that for other blog posts. Want to get back to making notes for my next book!

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