How to Start Writing Your Memoir

By Vanessa Jones

Do you want to write your memoir or life story but don’t know where to start? In September, thanks to Australia Council for the Arts, we memoir were fortunate enough to have Benjamin Law teach a Writing Memoir masterclass. Here are some valuable words of advice on how to get your story started that we learnt from Benjamin:

Don’t start your memoir at the beginning of your life – start in the middle of the action or in media res.

Do some research. That means interviewing your parents and grandparents to discover your family history. There may be gaps in your knowledge and stories that you may not even be aware of. And gaining another perspective on the situation can enrich the story.

Research names. Names have history, cultural significance, identity and sometime even family or personal secrets embroiled into their existence.

Pick something on your body, perhaps it’s that birth mark, a tattoo or the scar behind your ear. Describe it and then describe its history, how it was acquired and what was involved. Then reflect on it – how do you feel about it now? How has it shaped your life and your personality?

Additionally, your writing will be more successful if you find a way to frame your work. See which of the following devices you could use:

  • Timeframes – as per The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, stick to a specific time period to write your story.
  • Focus on an era – such as your youth or a cultural time period (eg the eighties)
  • Write your memoir as a manifesto. What lessons, ideology and advice can you impart to others? An example of this is Caitlin Moran’s book, How to Be a Woman.
  • Use a structural device to stick the story to. Lorelei Vashti used the memories associated with each of her dresses to construct narratives in her book Dress, Memory.
  • Commit to a theme and abandon a structure, as per David Sedaris.

Here are some more articles on writing memoir that you may find useful:

12 Tips on Writing Memoir

Memoir Writing Tips

How to Start Writing a Memoir





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