The Value of Reading & Writing a Memoir

We all have stories to tell, and times in our lives when we feel strongly impressed or inspired to document what happened. This is the description of a memoir. It’s a nonfiction narrative where the writer focuses on a snapshot from a specific time period or reflects on a string of related themed events.

This differs from an autobiography, which is a historical account of a person’s entire life. A memoir is not a self-help book; yet those I have read carry the reader into insights and meaningful bits of wisdom gathered from the writer’s experience. There are many variations as there are individuals.

Why Read a Memoir?

The fact is, reading memoirs is a beneficial way to learn how to write one. It is a beneficial way to explore an insightful, traumatic, or life-changing experience. Brian Clark states, “The better you read, the better you write.”

My Favorite Memoir

In my favorite,  First You Have to Row a Little Boat, Richard Bode relates his experiences with sailing and sailing terms he learned as a young boy to a number of truths he discovered about life: zagline, in irons, becalmed, and fogbound among others.

He writes, “At times, I found myself moving toward my goals backwards, like a boy in a row boat guiding myself by an inner sense of direction which tells me I’m on course.” This is an insightful, thoughtful read.

A Memoir About Autism

In, The Electricity in Every Living Thing, Katherine May tells of her walk along the 630 Mile South West Coast Path in England, during which she processes the realization that she may be autistic.

She shares some illuminating discoveries about herself that help her make sense of who she is.

It’s an especially helpful book for anyone to read who has dealings with or is raising an autistic child or grandchild. Katherine May is able to describe to the lay person exactly what an autistic person is experiencing in the world around her.

Memoir on Overcoming Prejudice

In Pat Conroy’s memoir, The Water is Wide, he chronicles his prejudices learned while living in the South.

His aha about that inspires him to take a year-long teaching assignment in 1968 on Yamacraw Island off the coast of South Carolina.

His experience shows the impact of illiteracy and ignorance perpetuated by the school system there, and the many creative techniques he used to bring his students into the twentieth century.

A Summer of Transition

I wrote Awakening from the Midlife Chrysalis during a time of transition between full-time work and an uncertain and unidentifiable future. I knew it wasn’t a midlife crisis as we are socialized to call it, rather an awakening to the invention of a differently-paced life.

“I’ve been a student of life’s transitions. This latest shift into midlife surprised me more than I expected because it seemed to require more of a step inward than forward. As I studied what others had written about the subject of midlife, I felt impressed to document my own journey.”

“This time of reflection for me began with the image of a caterpillar unravelling in a chrysalis. When I tore apart my first draft to start over again—immediately the ideas for new chapter titles came into my mind. It was as if I stood at the entrance to an interior metaphorical structure. Writing this book provided a way for me to order and share the perplexities, insights, and discoveries of my journey.”

4 Writing Tips for Memoirs

Whether you’re interested in writing a memoir, or writing a story as part of your autobiography, there are a few tips to follow:

  • Write in first person, establishing yourself as the main character.
  • Identify the central theme, and create a structure or scaffolding: plan on a compelling introduction, middle, and end of the story.
  • Keep your focus narrow, rather than moving off into tangent experiences, like the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings that you think your story can’t do without that instead confuse the reader.
  • Even though you’re writing for yourself, remember that you may also want to have an audience, even if it’s only your immediate family.

How to Start Your Memoir

If you’re not sure where to start, order my book, How to Make Writing Easier, for an easy step-by-step guide.

Here’s what one reader said, “After college, it is fun not to get a letter grade for my writing, rather to get thoughtful and helpful ideas and encouragement. And doing it at my own pace. Super fun!”


Practicing your writing will provide information and clarity so you can move your project forward.

The content, questions, and writing activities will help you experiment with the process of first-thought writing, learn how your mind works; what gets in the way, and practice with a set of tools that will improve your writing skills.


2 replies on “The Value of Reading & Writing a Memoir”

Thanks for the explanation of a memoir and for the helpful ideas about writing one. I look forward to working on one.

I’m glad you found the information helpful. Reading a variety of memoirs gives a person ideas about how to write their own. Writing one is an important part of the record of the world—so that there is more for our children and grandchildren to know about our lives: what is interesting to us, what we’ve learned, and the depth of wisdom that comes from our experiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *