Start Your Memoirs By Making a List

To start memoirs, start with list-making. You can do this on a computer or on paper, at home or in a coffee shop, wherever you want.

When I got serious about writing about my lfe, I decided right away that I would write a series of books. I did this because various parts of my life would make good stories on their own—and also because I’m not famous (or infamous) enough for people to want to read about me. It may take you more time to figure out your plan.

So the first list I made was of books I wanted to write. I decided not to start with my childhood but to work bits of it into my later stories. The first book would be about going around the world when I was 19. The second one would be about going on a Crossroads Africa workcamp a year later. The third would be about taking LSD as a research subject. Especially for the second and third books, I could see that people would want to read them for the topic, even if they didn’t care who I was! When I mention these three topics to people, most of them reply that they want to read the LSD one.

That list evolved over several weeks. My husband pointed out that I hadn’t included one about my father but that I really should do one, as my father was pretty famous. I grumbled a while but I could see the point and it now is slated to be the fourth book, after the one I am doing currently.

So what about you? What do you most want to write about? What do you think people will most want to read? Who will be your readers? Family and friends, people in a particular field of work or a particular town?

Once you have a list of ideas for books, whether it be one or a dozen, decide which book you will write first. I wrote my second book first because it was easier than my first one, what with the letters home and journals I had to draw on. But I didn’t publish the second one before the first one.

Plotters and Pantsers

People say that there are two kinds of novelists, plotters and pantsers. Plotters work out their plots in a good bit of detail, often with time lines and character lists. Pantsers go by the seat of their pants. This distinction applies to people writing memoirs as well. There are benefits to both approaches. When I started my first cozy mystery, I was totally a pantser and I loved the creativity and fun of having no idea what I would be writing. But when what I wrote in the first weeks turned out to be a very minor part of that book, I became more of a plotter. For my memoirs, I am a plotter.

It’s worth thinking about this for yourself. If you can’t bear the thought of doing an outline or list, then just start writing and see what you come up with! If you are more methodical by nature, start with listing.

So if you take my suggestion and start by making lists, or if you just dive in, get going and see what happens! You may find, as I have, that it’s great fun to see what happens next.

2 thoughts on “Start Your Memoirs By Making a List”

  1. First, I do think that revolving around a plot will absorb your readers more than if you don’t do that.

    What the lessons or messages you will be giving them really depends on the contents of your memoirs. For example, if you are writing about parenting, the points will be very different from what they might be if you are talking about surviving being in war. (Yeah, I can remember a few warlike moments in family life but here I mean serious military conflicts.)

    People read memoirs for many reasons but enjoyment is a key one.

  2. Great ideas about making a list.

    I think my stories would revolve around a plot. What is the lesson or message I would want my audience to appreciate when they read about my life events?

    Thanks for sharing!


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