Are You Making This Common Memoir Writing Mistake?

At first, the thought of writing a memoir about your life seems so simple. You know what happened during your lifetime, so all you need to do is write it down, right? Well, according to award-winning columnist and author Adair Lara, this is simply not true.

Great Memoirs Are Stories, Not Lists of Events

While reading Lara’s Writer’s Digest article, “The Key Elements of Writing a Good Memoir,” the following passage really stood out to me:

Often the real drama of a memoir is in watching the narrator shed beliefs and behaviors that keep him from getting what he wants….The best memoirs show how human beings change under pressure, not just the bad things that can happen to people. And that change means change in you. If you marry a doctor who turns out to be a crook, that’s not change. It’s bad luck. If you marry a doctor who turns out to be a crook, and you knew all along something was wrong—those unexplained phone calls, a repossessed Porsche—then you have a story to tell. Your memoir should be about what you found out about yourself, not about him, the night of his arrest.

While writing your memoir, it can be so easy to get caught up in describing the life-altering events that you’ve experience that you forget to talk about the lessons you have learned along the way that have helped you change and become the person you are today. It’s those lessons and the changes you’ve gone through-according to Lara-that make people interested in reading your story.

My husband teases me because tend to like movies where women kick butt. I especially enjoy the stories where the woman is about 5-foot-tall with a small frame and doesn’t start out as a fighter but becomes one out of necessity. If you haven’t guessed it already, I favor these kinds of stories because I am about 5-foot tall with a small frame and when I find myself in tight situation that threatens to destroy me or something I value dearly, it is my memory of those stories of women like me who have overcome it all that encourages and challenges me to overcome my own situation. My fights are not always like the fights of some of my favorite heroines, but that doesn’t change the way their stories encourage me in my own fights.

When you focus your memoir on how you have learned and changed based on what you have experienced in life, you are creating an opportunity to make an impact on your readers just like the impact my favorite stories make on me.

Final Thoughts

Even if you have read some great memoirs in the past, consider reading more memoirs now that you are thinking about writing a memoir of your own to give you examples of different styles and inspiration for creating your own.

Here are a couple lists of great memoirs to consider reading:

I also highly recommend reading Lara’s “The Key Elements of Writing a Memoir” to learn step-by-step tips for structuring your memoir so that it focuses on how you have changed over time instead of simply telling a sequence of events.

Danielle Fetherson

Danielle helps aspiring authors become published authors. She believes that everyone has at least one book on the inside of them that can make a positive impact on someone else's life. If you have been thinking about writing a book, learn how to start your book today with the free resources at