The International Women's Writing Guild


Tips for Writing Memoir

May 19, 2017 12:22 AM | IWWG (Administrator)

by Maureen Murdock, IWWG instructor and author of Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory


  1. Memoir is not an autobiography but rather a selected aspect of a life. No event in your life is too small, but the details are important.
  2. There is a universality to memoirs.
  3. Honesty and Sincerity: Is the narrator authentic? When you are talking about yourself, you are talking about all of us to a certain degree; that’s the universal element. The struggle for emotional truth is central to memoir.
  4. Intimacy: The hallmark of memoir is its intimacy with its audience.
  5. Language in memoir is conversational, everyday, direct.
  6. Humor: Be willing to laugh at yourself, reveal your foibles. We all have them.
  7. Self-Reflection: The essence of memoir is the track of the writer’s thoughts struggling to understand some event in her life. What have you learned from this event?
  8. Character: In writing memoir, you have to make yourself into a believable character. What do you want to know about the people you write about, including yourself?
  9. Scenes: Vignettes, episodes, slices of reality are the building blocks of memoir. Get the reader into the scene with you. What’s happening? Who’s there? What’s the interaction?
  10. Voice and Tense: Start with the personal I (1st-person narrative). Start in the past tense. You are writing about the past in the present. This is what happened then; this is what I know now. You can write in the present tense later!
  11.  Purpose: What’s the purpose in writing memoir? Self-discovery, understanding another, healing a relationship, finding a broader perspective, telling a story that must be told?
  12.  Have fun!


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