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How to Organize Your Memoir

Writing a memoir is an exciting undertaking, likely one you’ve been dreaming about for some time. You’ve been revisiting your life’s standout memories—some thrilling and heartwarming, others dramatic, even painful—and thinking about lessons you’ve learned and can impart to the people you love. Now, you finally feel ready to sit down and begin writing.


You have clear ideas about stories and scenes you want to include, but now that you’re facing the blank page, the questions arise: How am I going to organize my life into a story? What should I include, and what should I leave out?


In this LifeStory Memoir blog, I will guide you through essential planning and creative strategies that will help you write a captivating memoir that resonates with readers and leaves a lasting legacy for generations to come.


Organize Your Memoir


Create a Timeline of Significant Life Events


Jot down significant and profound events, milestones, and experiences from your life. These events could range from transformative milestones to challenging moments that shaped your character. Sharing these experiences offers your readers a glimpse into your unique journey and the lessons you've learned along the way. Consider using a calendar, sticky notes, or even a digital tool to help you visualize the chronological order of your story.


Embrace the Power of an Outline


Your timeline is the beginning of your outline. Diving deeper and building out a more detailed outline will help you organize your thoughts, notice what scenes require more space and attention, understand what themes are beginning to emerge, and develop a coherent structure. The deeper you go, the more comprehensive your outline, the easier it will be to dive into the writing.


Decide on Your Order of Information/Chronology


Chronological order is usually the best and most straightforward approach. Other valid approaches include jumping back and forth between time periods, organizing your content thematically, and weaving different perspectives and voices together. You can experiment with different styles until you find the one that best suits your memoir. You can even try something avant-garde. What’s most important is that your choice is deliberate and executed with consistency.


Organize Supporting Documents and Photos 


Memories are often accompanied by tangible artifacts. Collect and organize supporting documents, letters, photographs, or mementos that add depth and authenticity to your memoir. Use them to inspire your writing. To include them in your memoir, make sure to scan them at a high enough quality for commercial printing. Label and organize your scans and physical documents so they are easily accessible when needed, and insert the name of each image/doc you want to use into its appropriate place on your outline.


Divide Your Story into Chapters or Sections


Now that your outline is filling out and you’ve decided on your order of information, you have enough content to break it up into segments, or chapters. Think of each chapter as a mini-story within your larger narrative. See if you can craft each mini-story with is own conflict and source of tension, or a mini-conflict that is a segment of the a larger conflict—one wrung on the overall ladder.


The division into mini-stories will help provide readers with natural breaks. Detailing the key events, emotions, and messages you want to convey will help you stay focused and allow readers to immerse themselves in each of your experiences.




Define and Sharpen Your Memoir's Theme


The further you go into planning and writing your memoir, the more defined your themes and character’s journey becomes. Pay attention to your own writing so you can see what it is telling you. Yes, it’s your story and nobody knows it better than you, but you are also going to learn things about yourself through the writing process that you never realized before. You will have epiphanies about your life through the themes you see emerging and the developmental journey of your “character.” This will help guide you to your message, what you want to convey through your memoir. Discovering and defining your memoir's theme will serve as a guiding light throughout the organizing and writing process.



Conclusion


Congratulations! You've embarked on a remarkable journey of organizing your memoir. By reflecting on your life, creating a timeline, dividing your story into chapters, and defining a theme or themes, you've laid a solid foundation that will grant you the freedom to just write, to fill in your scaffold, to get into the flow. Embrace your unique voice to tell the story that only you can tell, unleash your story upon the world, and leave an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of your readers!



Takeaways


To reiterate a few key takeaway points:


  • Professional memoir writers, with their skills and experience, can craft a compelling narrative that captures your family's essence

  • Start by brainstorming a list of anything you want to include in your story, such as memories, stories, events both personal and historical, people, places you lived and visited…

  • Organize your list into a chronological timeline

  • Fill in the spaces on your list with more things you want to include

  • Decide how you want to organize your overall story; what will be your structure, your order of information? Chronological is almost always best.

  • Prepare any supporting documents and images you want to include, and insert them into your outline

  • Turn your outline into a list of major chapters or section, almost like a Table of Contents

  • See what dominant themes emerge, and explore them as deeply as you can as you write your story

 



If you are looking for help capturing your story or a loved one’s story, or you have already begun but need help moving to the next stage, please reach out to me.


To see examples and learn more about our process, philosophy, and how we can help you, visit our website, LifeStoryMemoir.com.


Richard Squires is a memoir writer living in New Jersey. He has written forty-plus memoirs and published fiction and book reviews in myriad literary journals. His company LifeStory Memoir helps people keep their family stories alive forever by writing their memoirs.

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