Let's Write Together

Tips for Writing Memoir

  1. Memoir is not an autobiography but rather a selected aspect of a life. No event in your life is too small, but the details are important.
  2. There is a universality to memoirs.
  3. Honesty and Sincerity: Is the narrator authentic? When you are talking about yourself, you are talking about all of us to a certain degree; that’s the universal element. The struggle for emotional truth is central to memoir.
  4. Intimacy: The hallmark of memoir is its intimacy with its audience.
  5. Language in memoir is conversational, everyday, direct.
  6. Humor: Be willing to laugh at yourself, reveal your foibles. We all have them.
  7. Self-Reflection: The essence of memoir is the track of the writer’s thoughts struggling to understand some event in her life. What have you learned from this event?
  8. Character: In writing memoir, you have to make yourself into a believable character. What do you want to know about the people you write about, including yourself?
  9. Scenes: Vignettes, episodes, slices of reality are the building blocks of memoir. Get the reader into the scene with you. What’s happening? Who’s there? What’s the interaction?
  10. Voice and Tense: Start with the personal I (1st-person narrative). Start in the past tense. You are writing about the past in the present. This is what happened then; this is what I know now. You can write in the present tense later!
  11. Purpose: What’s the purpose in writing memoir? Self-discovery, understanding another, healing a relationship, finding a broader perspective, telling a story that must be told?
  12. Have fun!

Photo credit:  “Stairwell” by Maureen Murdock




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  • Barbara Lipton

    I am not presently a member, although I was for several years. I have been writing a “travel memoir” about a number of years when I experienced life in Native “Eskimo” villages in Alaska and eventually made a documentary film there. It is, of course, to an extent about me but it is also more about the people and culture I was living with. Several literary professionals have read the manuscript and have found it interesting and liked it (with reservations) but want me to write more about myself. Do you have guidelines for travel memoirs as you have about more personal memoirs? I am “stuck” in this process.

    • Admin

      Thanks for replying, Barbara! Maureen isn’t the one to reply to her blog post, but she did invite her webinar attendees to email her with any follow-up questions at murdockmaureen@gmail.com. Your memoir and documentary film sound fascinating.

      ~Marj (Hahne), blog moderator

  • Catherine Meyers

    Maureen Murdock has become my heroine because she taught me to know and understand my own heroine’s journey!

    The first time I read her book the Heroine’s Journey I knew is was the most significant book I’d ever read. It’s timeless and so important for every one to read, women and men alike.

    The second time I re-read this book I took notes all the way through. Truly a life changing book!

    • Admin

      Oh, Catherine! You’ve inspired me to finally read my copy 🙂 You may have already seen this, but here’s a YouTube video interview with Maureen from the late ’80s or early ’90s. I love the first comment under the video: “Underrated mythologist.”

      The Goddess In Art TV series: Interview with Maureen Murdock (28:28 min)

      Thanks for replying to this blog post!
      Marj (Hahne), blog moderator

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