Showing posts with label Memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memoir. Show all posts

3 Tips for Writing Your Life Story

Contributed by Patrick McNulty

Ready to write the story of your life?

There’s an old saying that everyone has a book in them. When it comes to autobiographies or memoirs, that’s definitely the case!

Writing a life story allows you to do more than just leave a legacy. You can also inspire and guide others with your words. The best life stories really impact the people that read them. They can cause profound and lasting change.

Before you get down to writing your life story  make sure you’ve taken the time to prepare properly.

After all, you only get one life. Why not tell its story well?
These three tips will help you make your life story writing experience as positive as possible.

Choose Between Autobiography Or Memoir

Often, the terms autobiography and memoir are used interchangeably. However, there’s a difference between them.

An autobiography covers the complete chronology of a person’s life, while a memoir focuses on a particular part.

To illustrate this, let's consider a chef preparing to write his life story. If he wanted to include stories from childhood all the way through to his adult cooking career, he would write an autobiography. If he wanted to focus on a time where they ran their own restaurant, they would write a focused memoir.

For many people, writing a memoir is the best choice. Why? It cuts to the chase. Most people have a somewhat predictable upbringing. Why not skip it, and get to the good stuff?

No matter which type of life story you choose to write, keep it honest, gripping, and impactful. This will keep your readers enthralled until the last page. 

Transport Yourself Back In Time

You know the feeling when you come across an old photo or hear a song that transports you back to a particular time in your life?

When writing your life story, you want to trigger as many rich memories as possible.

Your five senses are powerful helpers here. What type of music were you listening to at a particular time in your life? What kind of clothing did you wear?

Old photos, diaries, and conversations with longtime friends can help. Often, over time, our memories become a little foggy. Bring them into focus the best way you can.

If you feel comfortable doing so, consider including some personal photos or other items within the pages of your life story. This adds a level of intimacy for your reader which wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Make Your Readers Feel Something Strong

To make your life story as effective as possible, you need to share your total truth, without holding back.

Glossy, halfhearted tales won't keep readers interested, at all. You need to be vulnerable and put it all out there.

Think back to the best autobiography or memoir you’ve ever read. You probably felt joy at the author’s successes, and despair during their nadirs.

The key to doing this effectively is to strike a golden mean between too much and too little emotion.

Too little emotion runs the risk of boring your readers, while too much can come across as melodramatic and inauthentic.

Solicit feedback on your early drafts to finetune the emotional potency of your life story. Getting this right is perhaps the main determinant of its impact.

Above all, make your life story exactly as you want it to be. Feel free to break every suggestion on this page.

In the words of Thomas M. Cirignano - “Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained.”

Are you ready to explain yourself?

About the Author

Patrick is a writer and aspiring novelist. He's originally from London but travels around Europe. When not at his keyboard working on dystopian fiction, he can be found at the local coffee establishment, enjoying an iced Americano and a novel.


The Lazy Way to Be a Great Writer

What To Do When A Book Fails

Writing Secret to Getting Ahead

Building a Story Pitch

Writing is Healing

Did you know that writing is healing? 

No matter what kind of writing you do, I am certain there is a healing component in there somewhere. You may not even be conscious of it.

Your story doesn't have to be limited to a journal or a memoir to tell it. If you've written a novel, perhaps your character development is a refection of your own life. Maybe you've hit your pain head on with a self-help book to assist others.  I have particularly found writing in allegory style to help me process pain.

Whatever your writing style, whatever your genre, studies have shown that writing is therapeutic.

Rochelle Melander, author of the article, "Heal By Writing About Your Trauma" (Psychology Today; November 21, 2012):
Many psychological and medical studies have shown that writing about difficulties and dreams helps people experience increased happiness, health, and productivity ... psychologist James Pennebaker wrote about the multiple research studies he has done on the transformative power of writing. He discovered that people who use writing to make sense of their traumatic life experiences felt happier and less anxious.

You may have suffered a traumatic event. Write.

You may be a worrier. Write.

You may be fearful. Write.

You may have unfulfilled dreams. Write.

You may be having a bad day. Write.

Let the ashes be turned into beauty. Not only will you be helping the reader to enjoy what you write, but you will very likely be helping yourself!


 Kathy Moulton is a published freelance writer. You can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at When It Hurts -

Why Write a Memoir?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably have said to yourself, over and over, “I’d really like to write, but…” OR “Someday, I’m going to write…”

I think that writing down your family history is one of the most important things you could ever do. We all know friends or even family members who have always told such fascinating stories, but nobody ever wrote them down, so when they pass on, the stories are gone forever. Sometimes it’s just because, when you’re young, you think “Oh, there goes Grandpa, telling that old story again…” And you fail to realize the importance of it.

Many times I looked at the old photo albums my dad had that my grandmother had put together, but never thought about how important that era was, or how important it might be to me, and how I turned out as a human being. But one little tidbit did stick in my mind all those years—and that was the fact that back in the 1920s in Montana, my tiny grandma—about 5’2 and maybe all of 102 pounds—had ridden steers in rodeos. I couldn’t get it out of my head. That certainly was not something I ever aspired to do—even as big as I am!

So, I started to delve into her life story. And I have found it utterly fascinating. I chose to write it as a novel, but there is so much fact in it, so much from my grandparents’ and my dad’s life. This has resulted in three novels and a non-fiction book about old-time cowgirls in Montana. And in the process, my dad started writing down some of his memories of growing up.

You must have some of those stories floating around. Whether you write them down—just notes or a timeline or a regular story—or if you tell them to another person or into a recorder, I encourage you to do it. Don’t let your family history be lost.

A memoir puts a frame onto life by limiting what is included. It may be a particular period in your life, for example, your childhood, your adolescence, or your fabulous fifties.

An autobiography covers an entire life from birth to the present.


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

What is Flash Memoir

Guest post by Jane Hertenstein

Many of us are looking to write memories—either in the form of literary memoir or simply to record family history, in order to pass down stories to children or grandchildren. In Freeze Frame: How To Write Flash Memoir I look at memoir in small, bite-size pieces. Not all at once, but in small bursts of flash.

Flash is a relatively new genre. Other terms for flash include: Sudden, micro, postcard, short shorts. The roots of flash lie in the vignette or scene. There is no widely accepted definition for the length. Some journals are asking for no more than 100 words. Six Minute Magazine is looking for quality fiction that can be read in under six minutes. The upper limits of flash might be 1,000 words. Much of what I love about flash is about living in the moment. Capturing and seizing a point in time. Freeze framing it—much like a Polaroid snapshot.

Memoir can be defined as autobiography that uses novelesque or literary devices. Perhaps it is better to say that memoir is autobiography that relies less on chronology and facts and more on telling a story.

I like to treat the page like a friend, like a sounding board, or what the poet Frank O’Hara has described as unmade phone calls. The Internet actually makes it easy to record one’s life: Instagram! Facebook! Twitter!

Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way instructs us to “make time,” not wait to “find time” for writing. One of the best ways to make time for writing is through journal writing. She suggests free writing where for 10 – 20 minutes you write whatever comes into your head without editing, without even lifting your pen from the page. Here is a link to how to write what she calls “Morning Pages.”

No matter what it is called or how you view it, the writer needs to be able to slow down, turn off the critical, and turn inward.

EXERCISE: Where you are at, right now, whatever you want to call it: blog, journal, prayer, an unmade phone call, twitter, tweet—send one out. Write it, the flutter on your heart. No more than 500 words.
Read the headlines: ever wonder what’s behind them. The newspaper is full of real stories that at some point might alter or connect with our own story. Think tsunami, school closing, threat of e. coli in lettuce.

Ernest Hemingway had a background in journalism where he was embedded in several wars and learned to write concisely and yet place the reader there.

EXERCISE: What’s in the news? Using a headline as a prompt, write a flash.

This can be strictly memoir or you can take any headline and place yourself there as a reporter. Write about what affects you—your flash might also be written as an opinion (op-ed) piece.

Much of memoir is about ordinary life. Despite the fact that nothing important ever happened to you (I’m assuming), if your story nudges the reader to remember, then you will connect. People are interested in ordinary stories if they have the smell and feel of authenticity. An honesty that resonates. A skillful writer will use words like blood, injecting life into a story—and visa versa a story into life.

EXERCISE: Compose a flash built around your to-do list.

Even if you think you have lived a boring life, all of us have anecdotal moments, snapshots that if freeze-framed and cropped can offer entertainment/education/refuge for fellow readers.

About the Author:
Jane Hertenstein’s current obsession is flash. She is the author of over 40 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. Her latest book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir  is available through Amazon. Jane is a 2-time recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. She can be found blogging about Flash Memoir at


Is Thinking About Writing, Well Writing?
How to Write a Novel – Start with a Novel Outline
Letting Go of the Novel – How to Deal with Empty Pen Syndrome

P.S. To keep up with writing and marketing information, along with Free webinars, join us in The Writing World (top right top sidebar).


Guest Post: Sharing Your Life Story - Creating a Memoir

Memoirs: They’re Not Biographies by Dennis Milam Bensie

I just returned from the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans where I was a presenter. I, along with a couple of dozen other writers, was given the opportunity to do a ten minute reading from one of my published books (you were timed and honked if you went over ten minutes). 

This was a big weekend for me because I had never been to the three day festival, which took place at the famous Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street. The hotel was the perfect setting for a writing conference because it had been a hub of literary personalities. The literary guest list also included Tennessee Williams, WIlliam Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway and more recently Ann Rice and John Grishman. Truman Capote claimed to have been born in the Hotel Monteleone (a fact that was disputed; his mother was merely pregnant with him while living in the hotel).

I write memoirs. Most of my short stories could be considered memoirs. One of the many panel discussions I attended at the festival was called From Life to the Page: Turning Memory Into Narrative. I took many personal notes during all the seminars last weekend, but the most important notes I took came from quotes I heard during this memoir driven class.

“...All memories are fiction.”

It’s true. Everything you remember is fiction because it is your unique perspective. Your memory of an event is as individual as a fingerprint. Truman Capote probably wasn’t intending to lie about the site of his birth. Is it too much of a stretch for the Capote to think he was born in the symbolic hotel? It’s a better image to think of him being born at the Monteleone, rather than in a nearby hospital. A writer of memoirs has permission to rethink the literal usage of the word “born”.

“...Worry about the truth. Not the facts.”

A memoir is not to be confused with a biography. Facts are sometime crucial but should not completely dictate the Art.

The two quotes I list completely resonate with me as a memoir writer. I am sometimes asked how I can write more than one memoir. It’s not that I have had a long life of travel and adventure. It’s tone, style and perspective on certain events that give birth to memoirs, not merely where I was and what I did on a certain day.

Another thing that was discussed in the memory discussion from Saints and Sinners was that sometimes the best writing can spring from the smallest of events. Its possible to write a wonderful memoir story from something as simple as watching your mother brush her hair or the neighbor child tying their shoe. It’s not always necessary to know what Mom’s hair or the kid’s really looked like in memoir writing. Save the facts for the biography.

I wrote my first memoir, SHORN: TOYS TO MEN more linear in style. Everything ties together without any breaks in the book’s theme. It’s approach to storytelling reads like a fictional novel. Not to say that it reads as untrue or false. I use an emotional tone to tell the story of growing up with abuse and mental illness. 

ONE GAY AMERICAN,  my second memoir, proved challenging. The book is a bunch of vignette’s about my life growing up gay in the USA. In a few passages I told the reader the same story from SHORN. But it was my job to write the overlapped stories in a different way for each book, despite the fact that the facts were the same. 

One of the biggest story overlaps in both of my memoirs surrounds my three year marriage when I was nineteen. I couldn’t just leave it out of the second book because I already wrote about it in the first. 

I spent a simple paragraph or two in SHORN talking about giving my wife a heirloom bride doll for our wedding. My approach in ONE GAY AMERICAN was to be more poetic or symbolic and concentrate on smaller details of the event. I got to elaborate and write more about what the doll meant. It turned out I was able to expand and turn the story of the bride doll into a whole vignette of it’s own in my second memoir using metaphors and other dramatic techniques that I didn’t bother with in the first book.

My biggest advice for someone who wants to write their memoir is to
find a great style of storytelling that suits your life and what you want to say. Try an experiment: 

Take one event or fact and write three treatments of the same story trying to make it as different as possible each of the three times. Don’t worry so much about the facts: worry more about what you want your reader to remember when they finish your story. A good memoir will stay with it’s reader a long time after the last page is read and inspire them to think and feel rather than teach them facts or information.

I happen to choose as my reading selection for the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival the haunting chapter from ONE GAY AMERICAN about the heirloom bride doll. I was impressed that all the memoirists that read from their books each had very different styles of telling their personal stories.

I wonder if Ernest Hemmingway or Tennessee Williams worked on or ever read their memoir at the Hotel Monteleone. The two author’s styles are, no doubt, very different. 

(Dennis Milam Bensie reading from ONE GAY AMERICAN at the Hotel Monteleone on Sunday, May 26, 2013)

About the Author: 
Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. Bensie’s first book,  Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the International gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011″. The author’s short stories have been published by Bay Laurel, Everyday Fiction, and This Zine Will Change Your Lifeand he has also been a feature contributor for The Good Men Project. One Gay Americanis his second book with Coffeetown Press and it was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. He was a presenter at the 2013 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs.

You can find out more about Dennis Milam Bensie, his memoirs and World of Ink Author/Book Tour at

Your Children's Story and the Message

  By Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer I get a lot of clients who want to tell children something through a book. These people want to sen...