How to Write a Memoir Essay Without Losing Your Mind
What Is a Memoir Essay
The memoir essay (or simply memoir) is a written literary piece about moments from your life. From French, mémoire means memory or flashback. If you are not a gray-haired old man, you still have something to tell the reader. You are the only person that knows you well. If you plan to preserve the most precious memories, start writing the memoir right away!
How does a memoir differ from an autobiography? In fact, an autobiography usually is a chronological story about your life. It tells the facts and events that have happened during your life path. A memoir, on the other hand, is one or a few flashbacks that describe your feelings and reactions to events and facts. The memoir is your personal reflection to a particular experience. A memoir can’t cover all of your life – only certain moments that are significant to you for a particular reason.
Writing a memoir is a good tool to see the real picture of the event and analyze your thoughts about it. It may happen that you will discover a secret or two that you can’t recognize at that time.
How to Write a Memoir Essay in Several Easy Steps
Before starting to write, you need to get answers to the following points. Defining the topic and target audience will give you the overall sense of what you should write.
1. Define the audience.
Why do you want to write a memoir? Who will be interested to read it? The answers to these questions will help you define the goal and topic. For example, if your aim is to write a commercial memoir that will bring you money and popularity, you will need to cover a general topic that will be interesting for a wide audience. The topic that may interest a wide variety of people will also interest the publisher, and you will raise chances of publishing your book. Think about how your text may help people solve their problems.
2. Pick the topic.
The first step to writing a memoir is to define the topic of your future essay. The theme or topic will help you stay focused on what you want to cover. How do you pick a topic for a memoir? There are no strict requirements for choosing the topic; it may be a description of your personal experience or just a story of your subway ride.
- A turning point. Everyone faces turning points on their life path. It may be your first day at school, first date, graduation, the loss of the family member, victory at a match, etc. The turning point may be a cheerful or dramatic event in your life. What was the most memorable moment?
- Family life. Most of the events in our lives revolve around our families. Here we can discuss our childhood, parenting approaches, family values, and how your relationships with family members have changed over time.
- Work and money. Our career goals can bring us to the top or bring us nowhere. You can get a big inheritance or a grant on research. Or you can write a how-to guide on how to survive on a dollar in your example.
- Life choices. Each person concentrates their own efforts towards family, work, education, health, hobbies, or social life. You can see that some of the spheres are more important for you, while others matter less. Have you changed your life priorities? How has it influenced your life?
- Self-development and self-image. How has your image changed since you were a kid? Was it a problem for you? Think what made you change your style and why you have decided to move in a specific direction. Discuss what you do to live the life you want and how other people have influenced your point of view.
- Mentality. Over the years, your spiritual beliefs may change. Think about how your family has influenced your beliefs. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person? Why?
- Age. Every passing year brings us new thoughts and reflections. The older we become, the more eternal questions we address in our thoughts. What do you think about death? Analyze your life from this perspective.
If you decide to add some fantasy to your stories, you can describe your dreams or fantasy about the near future. Also, you can write a memoir about relationships, the role of an animal in your life, recovering from illness, your traveling experience, or overcoming a disaster. Nearly every event from your life may deserve to be imprinted in texts. Sometimes, good stories come from an ordinary event.
When you define the main points, you will be ready to start writing your memoir.
3. Tell the story.
Your first draft may look like a page from your diary. Try to write about your experience in your own words and without thinking about grammar or writing style. The aim of this step is to write down all details connected to your experience.
Try to hook the reader from the very beginning of your story. You can tell about a touching incident that serves as a turning point. Experiment. Some writers start their memoirs from the middle or end of the story to catch the reader’s attention.
4. Structure your story.
Memoirs usually have a story structure. The structure may change depending on the content and what effect the author wants to receive in the end. You can apply the following structure as a basis:
- Introduce your character to the reader.
- Describe the situation he or she has faced.
- Tell what actions the main character takes to overcome the situation.
- Explain why the situation seems hopeless/unsolvable.
- Describe the event that has changed the situation and what lesson the main character has learned.
You can try another approach: imagine that you are writing a script for a movie, and you are the main character. All you need is to constantly see the image.
5. Give your story to someone else to read.
Ask someone whose opinion you value highly to read your story. Ask this person to make suggestions and give an overall evaluation of the text. Maybe, you have confused something or the story gets boring in some parts. The outside opinion will help you improve your writing. Besides, such readers can help you find grammar and other mistakes in the text.
How to Write a Memoir Essay: Examples
In the text below you can read a sample of a memoir written by one of our writers. Identify the style, tone, and literary approaches that the author utilizes in the text. Look at the structure and the word choice. You can use the sample as a basis for your own creation.
My Way to Myself
When I think about it now, it seems ridiculous that I could have been so lost and scared without any objective reason for it. If my limited and prejudiced mind knew about the illusory character of reality, it would have obviously prevented me from acting like a fool when the situation was apparent and so simple that no efforts were necessary to make order from the chaos of my thoughts. But at that time, I was strongly convinced that the scale of my problem was incomprehensible for any living being in the history of humanity.
At a certain point in my life, I realized I had no idea about who I am. I discovered that I was everything, starting from my parents’ expectations, my teacher’s ideas about what knowledge I need, and my friends’ ideas about what should I do for them to deserve their affiliation. I was everything except myself. I prefered to have never faced this discovery. And if I had not, I would have never had to start this long and frightful journey from nothing to myself. I began to suspect that something was wrong with me when I became systematically bored with peers and classmates. I thought I was strange, and once I met what I deemed to be an interesting persona, and it proved my suspicion as partially true.
The one thing that I was entirely sure about is that he was different. Later I realized that our instincts chose each other for us. Apparently, he was not different, but just comfortable for me. I asked sometimes: “Do you think I am strange?” And he always said “no.” “So why do you choose me?” He replied: “Because you are special.” I always laughed at this answer. I don’t know why, but strange and special seemed synonymous to me. He told me everyone thinks they are strange. Partially, it was true. When we think beyond stereotypes and prejudice, we believe we are special. In fact, we are not. There is nothing brave in thinking differently. I dealt with hundreds of people who were unique and interesting in their own way. With some of them, we have become good friends. Others were guests on my way. One thing that united all of them was the desire for individualism. The capitalistic social order imposed a sense of individualism. However, in fact, it made us slaves within different circumstances and gave the right to choose the pattern of behavior within slavery. It is not strange that people struggle to be themselves in the world when they are told everywhere whom to be.
Everyone expects us to be comfortable: family, spouses, bosses, state, and church. Comfortable means deprived of the ability to be free. If we fail to meet the expectations, we are labeled as egoistic people immediately. Society encourages people to overcome the human egoistic nature, and they struggle with themselves in the attempts to win the battle in their instincts. What a ridiculous fight. They inevitably lose it and become victims of the system. I had lost it. Many of those people I met on my way I will remember for ages for their bright and enlightened minds. They inspired me and showed the variety of facets in reality. I loved them for their courage to think beyond the prejudice and stereotype. It was then when I thought that, by their unique approach to things and events in their everyday life, they were strange and special because they were distinguishable from the majority. Later I discovered that there is nothing special in thinking beyond standards.
Much more courage is necessary to act beyond expectations. I was not courageous at all. I don’t know why, but for my entire life I have been struggling with lots of inner conflicts. I knew answers to many questions and I knew how to improve the quality of a certain reality. But I was afraid of responsibility. For quite a significant period I was struggling with fear, and during this period I accepted challenges and risks everywhere. I can not say I was stronger than fear, I just looked fear in the eyes. I would not say that this battle improved the quality of my life, although my comfort zone has become much broader now. Recently, I stopped this struggle. I let the fear exist. I accepted it as an inevitable part of me. Generally, my way to myself started from letting everything that is a part of me exist.
At first, it was difficult to define where is “me” and where is the voice of my past. It generated anxiety and inadequate self-esteem. Later I realized that the reality is neutral and there does not exist anything right or wrong in it. With this discovery, a feeling of freedom came. I realized that I have a right to think the way I do. Even if my thinking was prejudiced and imposed, I have a right to think it. I also realized that I am not special and have never been. I just liked the feeling to be different, but generally, no objective reason existed that distinguished me from the majority. We are all with our inner tragedies, and that is what makes us identical.
Tips on How to Write a Good Memoir Essay
- Most memoirs are written as a collection of essays. If you plan to expand the number of your memoirs and publish a book, you need to think about the topic of each story. It shouldn’t make the reader close the book or fall asleep.
- Along with your significant experience, add descriptions of your ordinary life like going to the mall or taking a walk with a friend. This will add a more personal touch to your texts.
- Don’t share stories that are not related to your life. Memoirs should be about your life and the happenings somehow connected to your life.
- You can use slang and popular phrases. Use everything to make your autobiographical stories memorable.
- Pay close attention to details. Even a small detail like the way you put sugar in your cup creates a specific atmosphere in your story.
- Add an anecdote. Even a painful story shouldn’t be totally black. Show people that hard periods of time can be handled with a smile.
Incorporate dialogues in your story. It will make your story more alive and interesting.
- Don’t fall into the trap of turning a memoir into an autobiography. Your story should have a core theme and bring sense to the reader.
- Read some memoirs by various authors: “Hunger” by Roxane Gay, “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston, “The Color of Water” by James McBride, and more.
As you can see, it’s not so difficult to write a memoir if you follow our steps. We hope our guide and sample will help you create an impressive memoir so others can cherish your memories for years.