How to write your memoir in 8 hours

How to write your memoir in 8 hours

5 September 2016 Life Writing Autiobiography Memoir Collaboration

How to write your Autobiography/Memoir

Why – Why are you writing?

What – What do you want to achieve?                                        

Who – Who is the book for?



Why create a book?

  • Share stories with your family and friends
  • Work through personal issues
  • Make people understand a situation or event
  • Entertain, inspire, make a moral point, get revenge
  • Published for glory or money


What kind of book do you want to create?

Are you passionate about a certain issue or an expert in something?

  • Share insights from your perspective as an expert
  • Compile your research on a subject: ancestry, hobby, interests
  • Share knowledge of an event or cause

What are your sources?

  • Photos, diaries, letters
  • Interview family, friends, historians
  • Media clippings, research
  • Official documents, birth/death/marriage certificates, immigration records


Who will read your book will determine:

  • Your style of language
  • How much you reveal
  • Factual or personal
  • Edited professionally
  • Length of book
  • Input from other people, endorsements

Writing formula

FACT – the actual facts of whom, when and where

FILL – fill in details of the scene with characters and descriptions

FEEL – describe your feelings, your perceptions of the people, places and events

Start with the basic facts of dates and places, build on this with descriptions and details about people and the role they played in their life and your life, finally, discuss your feelings and relationships through anecdotes or examples.

Writing tips

Develop the main style of your story

What is the viewpoint it fits into?

Classic observation – describes a situation first-hand and uncovers its unique characteristics

Historical observation – through artifacts, historical events or archeologists

Immersion – living in a different life, culture, country

Adventure or survival – an exciting trip or event that went wrong

Humour – any category, but with your personal and humorous perspective

Major dramatic question – how to use a theme

Write a short summary, or 10 bullet points about your story.

Is there an obvious main theme, or reoccurring event? A theme could cover: religion, self-discovery, food, extreme living, confusion about a different culture, falling in love (with a person or place), survival, good overcoming evil, the power of human nature, and many more, even combinations.


A storyline can be a road map of your story, it is what happened and in what order.

Will your story be chronological? Start at the beginning of the timeline and work your way through to the present. You could use a journal or diary style.

Is the story a quest? You could start with the ordinary world, then, discuss the major conflict, how you dealt with the conflict, and finally, return to the ordinary world as a changed person.

Adventure or survival could start in the middle of the excitement or turmoil, then go backwards to the beginning to explain, then back to the present. Moving around in time helps to keep momentum and excitement.

Use your particular expertise, humour or passion to describe a place; this can portray everyday experiences in a completely new light for the reader.

Write as you talk

Writing as you talk is a good way to start, use the same words and expressions as you use in everyday speech. Imagine you are telling the story at a dinner party with friends. Your voice is animated, the tone fluctuates and you speed up on some parts and slow down at others, to create drama, or to focus on a detail – do the same with your written words.


Dialogue can help describe a person or situation, and can sum up people’s characters better than many paragraphs.

For example:

“Get over ‘ere you bloody kids”, Mum bellowed across the field.

We sprang to attention, knowing full well not to ignore her summons.

This gives the reader a visual picture of what type of character Mum was.

Show, not tell - Use your five senses to describe scenes and people

Write about the look, sound, smell, feel and taste of your experiences, to show, rather than tell, the scene for your readers. 

For example:

The acrid temple smoke burned my eyes, tears streamed uncontrollably down my face, wetting my sari and sticking it to my chest. I gagged at the taste of incense in my throat. I felt like spirituality was pushing into me, and my body was fighting to keep it out.

Another example:

Tell: I was afraid

Show: I shook with fear

Compare and contrast

Compare places, attitudes, language, or fashion, from what you experienced or had in the past, to your views now. Paint a picture with your words to show the differences from then to now.

For example:

Getting to school was one of the biggest challenges of my youth. Not only did I have to battle with my father, he would rather I stayed home to keep the house and prepare the food for the workers, but I had to battle the school and nature as well.

Discuss the battles. Compare how your children went to school or even your grandchildren.

Another example:

When I first started work at the factory in 1936, a man was killed or maimed every week, and this was normal for the industry. In 1942 rudimentary safety training was introduced, and a death once a month became normal. Now, if there is one death a full investigation is launched and production is stopped.

Discuss an incident as an example of how things are different now.

Zoom in and out

Just as movies zoom in and out of a scene to give perspective, or to show great detail, do the same with your words. Start with a big scene and work your way in, or vice versa.

For example:

The forest loomed, dark and unwelcoming before me. Each tree a sturdy mirror of its neighbour, limbs touching, their leaves entwined, as if holding hands to create an impenetrable wall.

Change angles/viewpoint

Describe people and scenes from different perspectives or viewpoints. This generates more specific details and emotion.

For example:

My father was a fair and respected businessman... I saw his secretary hunch down behind her workstation partition, her hands fussing over paperwork and eyes averted. Cringing like an often whipped dog.

Another example:

A bird’s eye view –

Farmland, in a patchwork quilt of straight lines and multiple colours, stretched in every direction.

Strong emotions – anger, forgiveness

Your life stories are very personal and could generate a lot of unexpected emotions. Do you feel you have unfinished business in your life? Here is a chance to right wrongs.

Anger can be all consuming, perhaps writing about your anger can put many entangled emotions into perspective, and you can start to heal.

Forgiveness, perhaps you have been stuck in past hurt and anger, after writing about the situation can you see it from different perspectives?

Adverbs – overused and redundant

It is a common mistake, when you are new to writing, to try and make your writing sound better by using a lot of adverbs.

For example:

the car zoomed around the track speedily.

‘zoomed’ and ‘speedily’ essentially mean the same thing, so to include the adverb speedily does not add anything to this sentence, and is redundant. 

Another example:

the stone sank quickly.

too obvious, of course a stone sinks quickly.

A better approach is to show, not tell, the scene:

the body sank quickly, like a stone.

Adjectives – ponderous and redundant

Too many adjectives can clutter up your writing, or even be redundant.

For example:

The dark and dreary room had an empty, suspicious feeling to it, the air hung stale and thick with undefined strange odours.

‘dark’ and ‘dreary’, ‘stale and thick’, ‘suspicious and strange’, these combinations all essentially mean the same thing, so to include both does not add anything to the sentence and are redundant. 

A better approach could be:

The dreary room felt empty, the air thick in my throat…

Vary sentence lengths

Vary sentence lengths to create more interesting paragraphs. Too many short sentences produce a choppy feeling, however, too many long sentences can confuse the reader.



Painful memories

Some memories can create strong emotional reactions. Take a breath, even a break, or talk it through with someone.

Write in stages - start with bullet points, keywords or expressions, then come back when you feel stronger, and piece-by-piece you can build on your words.

Faulty memories

The brain is an amazing thing, but it is not perfect all of the time. Memories can be fragmented, or a mix of first and second-hand information. The brain is very sensitive to suggestion, and sometimes you may feel you remember something, but it might not be completely accurate. Your memories are also your perspective, perhaps you did not have the situation in context, or you were looking through a child’s eyes. This story is your story, and it is your perspective, whether right or wrong, just be aware of the repercussions of vengeful words.

Five senses

We discover the world through our five senses; sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Our sensory perception is primal and powerful and can be used to stimulate our thoughts and memories.

Sight exercise:

Look at a photograph. Start jotting down points about what you see; name the people, what are they doing, what is the occasion, what are they wearing. Use these points to start generating your memories of that time.

Sound exercise:

Listen to some music relevant to a time or era you want to remember. Jot down bullet points as memories come back.

Smell exercise:

Smell some clothing of someone you want to remember, or their aftershave or perfume. Even sun lotion or cooking smells can help to trigger long forgotten memories.

Taste exercise:

Usually associated with food, but some smells can create a ‘taste’ in your throat as well. Eat some foods that you used to eat in your childhood, or cook a loved one’s favourite recipe.

Touch exercise:

Hold an ornament or trinket from a time you want to remember. Perhaps a cherished possession of someone you are trying to remember. Sit in their chair or put on their shoes. Close your eyes and concentrate on the feel of the item.

Combination exercises:

Combining senses will make the memory triggers even stronger. Look at a photo, listening to the right music, wearing their perfumed scarf, while sitting in their chair.

Imagine your life as a landscape scene

Snowcapped mountains in the background, a large river weaving through dense forests, desert plains, fields with flowers, maybe some rapids on the river, a waterfall, a swimming-hole. Can you relate these scenes to periods in your life? Can you see an overall reoccurring theme in your life? This theme can drive your writing and create the structure of your story.

Situation stimulation

If possible, go back to the place where you grew up, or first worked, or lived when you were first married. Seeing how a place is now can stimulate your memories of how it used to be.


Create your life’s timeline. List all the major events of your life. Start with the year you were born, the year you went to school, the year you moved house, the year your pet died etc.

World events

List some major world events and think about what you were doing then. Where did you live, or work? Did this major event affect your life or your family?

Writing is a journey, some days it’s fun and some days it’s a bit of a chore, but it’s definitely worth it. It will change your life.

Your family and friends will enjoy your insight, memories and legacy for many generations to come.

Collate your stories
  • Q&A templates to guide
  • Voice-to-text instantly into your book
  • Collaborate to build a book together