Writing a Memoir? Avoid These 4 Mistakes

How to write an engaging autobiography

What is the best way to share your memories with your loved ones?

Writing a memoir is not an easy task, with memories and emotions all trying to make their way out of your head and onto the paper. Thoughts can get jumbled and memories distorted. Getting it just right might seem like a daunting task, requiring you to dig deep into your memory bank to drudge up old and occasionally even painful memories.

However, the importance of documenting your story cannot be overstated. Writing about your life can be transformative, helping you put things into perspective. Creating your memoir may help to connect the dots, identify themes in your life, and, of course, document your legacy for your family. It provides the means for you to share your experiences and wisdom with future generations.

Everyone has a memory to share, and yours is waiting for you to take that first step to begin.

As exciting as it may be to get started on this journey, it’s natural to be stopped short by one big question: “What if I get it wrong?”

The simple answer is that these are your memories, and there is no wrong or right to it. But while the memories are yours, you still want to tell the story in a way that will keep your readers engaged. 

When writing your memoirs, avoid these common problems to make sure your book is one that readers will enjoy for years to come.


writing a memoirPhoto Credit: Monkey Business Images


1. Memoir Versus Biography

Problem: Most people want to begin their memoirs with the day that they were born. While your life story certainly has a beginning, your memoir is not an autobiography of your entire life, documenting every detail and life event. It is more important to share the specifics of the most important memories and events rather than every minor detail of your life. A memoir is a snapshot in time capturing a more personal, focused view of a memory.

Solution: Keep your reader engaged by sharing the important parts of the story or event, allowing emotion and vulnerability to shine through. Use this time to document the details of an event or memory instead of worrying about sharing a chronological history of your life. 


2. Stream of Consciousness Writing

Problem: You may be so eager to document the event that your writing is disorganised and fragmented. Writers often share events as a stream of consciousness, divulging random memories and thoughts as they pop into their heads. Unfortunately, this does not make for an interesting read and may even confuse the reader — especially if it leads to long, run-on sentences that are hard to follow.

Solution: Use an outline to lay out the story and details in an organised fashion. Following a step-by-step process will also trigger unexpected memories, helping you to enhance and improve the story as you go. Resist the urge to share facts, figures and dates that are not related to the specific memory to avoid confusing the reader.


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Photo Credit: Getty Images


3. Will Others Be Offended?

Problem: Many writers have avoided writing their memoirs for years or even decades in fear of hurting others’ feelings. A memoir is a personal recollection of an event from your perspective. Not everyone who reads your story may like it or agree, but these are your memories. Censoring your thoughts will lead to a much weaker story.

Solution: Do not allow fear of persecution or disagreement to prevent you from sharing your story as you recall it. Ignore the haters and nay-sayers and tell your truth. Your recollection is unique and should not be tainted or skewed by the opinions of others.


4. Avoid Giving Advice

Problem: Readers pick up a book or a memoir for entertainment. It is usually not meant to teach, inspire or motivate, although these are possible outcomes of good writing. As you write your memoir, resist the urge to tell the reader how to overcome something in their own life and focus on what your journey means to you.

Solution: Think about the telling of your story as a novel. What will keep the reader entertained and motivated to continue reading? Share words of wisdom as lessons that you have learned, rather than writing a “how-to” manual. Avoid giving the reader unsolicited advice!

Writing your memoir should be fun and rewarding as you retrieve possibly long-forgotten memories and share your feelings and emotions with an audience. Remember that this is your story. In the end, the most successful memoirs are the ones that remain true to their writer’s vision.


Story Terrace Can Help

At Story Terrace, we understand the importance of sharing your memories exactly as you recall them. Our experienced writers and streamlined editing process eliminate many of the common pitfalls and roadblocks you may encounter in writing your memoir. Through in-person, video, or telephone interviews, one of our writers will help you share your story in your voice, guiding you through each step of the journey. 

We also make the process enjoyable! Writing your memoirs shouldn’t be stressful. Whether you tackle the task on your own or with professional help, make sure to take the time to enjoy the process of reliving your most important memories and sharing them with your future readers.


If you're interested in sharing your memories with family and friends, we can pair you with a Story Terrace writer near you to streamline the process. You can also sign up for our newsletter for more helpful writing advice. 


Written by Rachel Arterberry

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