You Want to Write a Memoir, But You Don’t Know What to Write About

If you want to write a memoir, the topic is obvious: you! But it’s not always so simple, is it?

Most people who write memoirs have a burning desire to describe a particular episode in, or time period of, their life. Typically, these are stories of redemption. The author may have triumphed over a rough childhood or rebounded after an abusive marriage. Perhaps the author was a victim of a crime and wants to document the facts as well as the emotional fallout. The episode could be pivotal in a more positive way, such as winning a lottery, or the memoir could track a time period during which the author’s life took an unusual turn, such as adopting a dozen children.

But what if your life doesn’t offer any of that? Maybe you’ve lived what seems to be a pretty ordinary life. You just want to write a memoir because, unusual or not, your life is special to you and you’d like to write it all down.

One way to approach a pretty ordinary life story is to abandon the memoir format of choosing just one aspect of your life and, instead, write a more comprehensive autobiography. Many people want to leave something in writing so that their children and grandchildren know details about their heritage. In that case, a full autobiography makes sense. It will provide your descendants with the facts about the people who came before them. It will convey your impressions of what it was like to grow up in the time and place of your early years. It will explain why you made the choices that you made.

If you prefer to write a memoir, though, even what seems like an unexceptional life contains many interesting moments. Think through your life, and write down five to ten episodes that stand out. Does one jump out more than the others as either somewhat unusual or especially meaningful to your life? Or does a pattern emerge that can serve as a theme and include more than one episode? Analyze the way you handle challenges. Is there a lesson there? Examine what you’ve done right that has delivered good results for you—maybe that’s where the lesson lies. Perhaps a long relationship with a friend or relative holds an interesting dynamic.

If you want to write a memoir, you’ll find something to write about. Give it some real thought, and get going!