Leaving a Legacy: How to Start Your Memoir and Stick to It

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JLP Staff

Aging Well /

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Everyone has a story to tell. But where you start when it comes to telling your life’s story? And how do you share your legacy in a way that will positively impact others like you?

Short answer: a memoir.

Memoirs are different than autobiographies in that instead of chronicling an entire life story and the facts behind it, they highlight the emotional journeys that led to a specific outcome or life lesson.

Sharing your experiences can not only help someone else feel less alone, but writing a memoir also provides countless benefits to your personal mental health, including:

  • Giving you an opportunity to see how far you’ve come and all you’ve accomplished.
  • Creating a therapeutic effect that’s been shown to improve mood disorders, boost memory and even reduce doctor visits.
  • Helping you practice gratitude.
  • Identifying your strengths.
  • Motivating you for the future.

Whether you’d like to share the story of overcoming a tough divorce, battling cancer, or starting a new career, a memoir is a great way to do it.

Even if you’ve never been a writer, there are tips you can use to learn to write a meaningful, powerful memoir.

Here are 5 steps to getting started and sticking with writing an impactful memoir.

Choose a Theme

The overall purpose of writing a memoir is to share a specific life experience and the emotional journey that took you there. So it’s important to first determine the theme of your book. To figure out the theme, ask yourself these questions:

  • What will readers gain from reading about your life?
  • What’s a recurring message your experiences have taught you?
  • What’s a universal question that will connect me to my readers? For example, “How does a mother overcome life-threatening battles?”
  • How did these experiences change me?

A theme may not come to you immediately, and sometimes it helps to recruit the help of an outsider.

Think of some friends or acquaintances you know would be honest with you, without just telling you what you want to hear. You can use an outsider’s perspective for assistance on the following:

  • Tell your story to them, and take note of questions they ask, or moments where they seem intrigued.
  • Ask if they’ve recognized any recurring themes or points of growth within the experiences you share.
  • See if any of their suggestions resound with you, and notice any patterns you may have overlooked that lead to a specific life lesson.

List Milestones

After you have an idea of the lesson you want to share, begin listing the milestones that led you to it. They don’t all have to be epiphanies, just steps in the right direction.

Reminisce on things like the people who influenced your decisions, significant conflicts, changes in beliefs and mistakes and victories.

As you recall and list these important memories, give them some details and depth. Consider the following:

  • Who was involved?
  • Where did it occur?
  • Why was it memorable?
  • How did it make you feel?

Once you have a list of significant memories that led to your theme, you’ve gotten a lot of the hard part out of the way. This list is going to be the first step of your outline, which will help shape the full journey of your story.

Categorize Your Memories

Now that you have a list of crucial pieces and players in your story, it’s time to get organized.

As you chronicle the most important events in your story, note categories that your mind intuitively separates them into.

Some writers might categorize certain happenings by where they were living at the time. Others may categorize events by what grade they were in, or by fashion phases.

If your story is about co-parenting as a divorcee, maybe your categories could correlate with stages of the relationship. Everyone is different, as is everyone’s story.

Follow your gut, then write each category at the top of a new piece of paper.

Under it, list the memories you associate with each one. Now you have a nearly complete outline!

Create a Story Arc

A story arc is what determines which parts of your story will be the beginning, middle and end of your memoir.

Every story arc should have an inciting incident, a rising action leading to a climax, falling action and a resolution.

To create your story arc, evaluate the moments you listed previously. Determine the core conflict, or most significant challenge you faced in this journey. This will act as your climax.

From there, write down each experience that led to this conflict, or the rising action, and follow the climax with the results of that challenge and how they led to a resolution.

Don’t be afraid to step out of the box by doing things such as starting your novel amidst the climax then backfilling— as long as you’re sure to keep readers informed and captivated.

Start Writing

Now that you have a solid outline, you’re ready to start writing!

Remember, your draft doesn’t need to be perfect off the bat. Every great story goes through many rounds of edits before it’s finalized. The important part is just getting the words down.

To help you stick to a routine, set yourself up for success with a deadline, a plan to help reduce gaps in writing time, and a distraction-free space.

Here’s a few more tips to kicking off your memoir:

  • Be genuine: Oftentimes people can tell if things are sugar coated or blown out of proportion. To get your audience to relate to you, do your best to honestly communicate what happened.
  • Be detailed: Instead of saying you got on a bus, describe the bus, your mood, the setting, etc. Do the same with your characters — if you’re describing your grandmother, make sure to highlight her unique qualities like any traits you’ve inherited from her, her fun fashion sense, great sense of humor, etc.
  • Focus on evoking emotion: Don’t get too focused on the events themselves. The important part is making sure to always focus on the feelings attached to them.

Find Resources

If you’re self-publishing your book, you’ll need reliable resources to help you with the process.

Steuben Press provide not only informational blogs and free ebooks for new and experienced authors alike, but they provide crucial services as well such as printing and cover design.

Grab your pen, because you’re ready to write! Remember your story has value and you may touch more lives than you anticipated.

Whether your book makes it to book stores or not, you’ve found a way to make your legacy live on and got to know yourself a little better in the process. Gain some added inspiration by checking out some memoirs by fellow female authors.




Categories: Aging Well
About The Author
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Joan Lunden’s in-house research and writing team works with Joan to create content that complements her focuses and the interests of her fans. The team is dedicated to creating a thriving community through content and conversations, and hopes their work, like Joan’s, can make a difference in the lives of her readers everywhere.

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