Jennifer Xue
Staff Blogger at ProWritingAid and Corporate Content Specialist
Published Jun 20, 2019

Image of hand writing

Autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs are among the most popular genres. A memoir is often misunderstood as either an autobiography or a biography. However, it's neither.

A memoir consists of snapshots of the author's life. Unlike a biography or an autobiography, which includes events, ideas, secrets, and philosophies that may cover a lifespan, a memoir speaks about specific parts of life that can be delivered in several chapters.

In this article, we'll discuss the forms of memoirs, the types of memoirs, which one you should write, and how to write it.

Contents:
  1. Forms of Memoirs
  2. Types of Memoirs
  3. Selecting the One
  4. How to Write It

Forms of Memoirs

In general, there are three forms of memoirs: an anthology of life stories, a short book, and a personal essay. Each form is distinctive and comes with its unique characteristics.

Anthology

This is a collection of short stories about facets of life, which are grouped around a theme. The sequencing can be chronological or through recurring references. The author can write one story at a time, which saves time as each can be written as the muse comes.

Short Book

This is ideal for capturing distinct periods of life without worrying how to tie them together. You can have it published as an eBook of 10,000 to 30,000 words. Thus, it's ideal as a "teaser" for a longer body of work, whenever you have it available. Whatever your purpose is, a short memoir is a good way to share a specific part or period of life for informational, educational, or entertaining purposes.

Personal Essay

A personal essay focuses on the inner life of the author. You share your views about spirituality, relationship, religion, art, science, and other ideas that shape who you are. In other words, this form of memoir allows readers to take a peek at the author's reasons for making certain decisions and better understand them.

Types of Memoirs

There are various types of memoirs. Here are the most common:

Personal Event Memoir

This can be a childhood or a coming-of-age memoir, or it revolves around a significant personal event, like divorce, illness, coping with abuse, coping with grief, or living as an expat. Every individual has such events, which can become an infinite well for inspiration.

Portraiture Memoir

As the author, you're writing about your experiences when dealing with the subject of the memoir. Colin Clark, for instance, wrote a portraiture memoir about dating Marilyn Monroe, which has been adapted into a movie.

Spiritual Quest Memoir

This is a memoir about searching for spiritual meaning and purpose. The author is a spiritual seeker, which may or may not discuss anything related to religion. Spirituality, after all, is the quality of being a human spirit and the experiences related to the soul and immaterial activities. Many spiritual memoirs talk about peace, love, and mindfulness, like those written by the Dalai Lama.

Travel or Adventure Memoir

A travel or adventure memoir includes narration on experiences, activities, and lessons learned during a trip. This type of memoir mostly describes places in vivid detail and relates unforgettable experiences. To add substance, many authors include how they were forever changed by their travels.

Political or Activism Memoir

This is usually reserved for those who have held public office, like presidents, governors, and other government officials. Some high-profile activists with inspiring life lessons have also written such a memoir.

Selecting the One

If you merely write for writing's sake and don't care whether it sells or not, you should choose the type that suits your time, resources, availability, lifestyle, and purpose. However, if you want to sell more copies and earn best-seller status, these three types are likely to sell well, according to literary agent Kelly Notaras.

Trial-to-Triumph Memoir

We all love reading about heroes, survivors, and rags-to-riches stories. This type of memoir describes the hardships, what the author endures, and how he or she continues to fight against all the odds. The triumph comes with important life lessons, which the author shares with readers without lecturing. This type of memoir is so common that the competition in this genre is fierce.

Novel-Like Memoir

This type of memoir is page-turning, evocative, and narrated like a novel. It combines tragic events with a dash of magic and an inspiring storyline. Like a novel, the writing style provokes the readers' imagination with vivid and visual descriptions. Feelings are also described in an engaging way.

Celebrity Memoir

This type of memoir is popular among famous people. However, you don't need to be a celebrity to write it. You can write a portraiture memoir about someone renowned whom you're close with. Write from your perspective instead of theirs. Celebrities sell. So any incident concerning them (and you) has appeal to readers.

How to Write It

Here are the five steps to write a marketable memoir.

First, create a theme and a premise.

Say you're writing a cooking memoir to share about your experiences as a restaurateur and a chef. That's the theme. But a premise is the statement or proposition that the whole memoir is based upon. It can be about life lessons learned from cooking for more than 20 years. With this premise, whenever your story wanders, you know how to return and stay on track.

Second, select life events.

From 20 years of being a chef and a restaurateur, select the top events to elaborate on. For instance, you can divide the memoir into chapters, and each chapter can be about a specific incident or event. Write down the incidents and start creating the chapters' outlines.

Third, write it in sections.

Regardless of the form and the type of the memoir, write in small sections. Each chapter can be divided into several sub-chapters, and each sub-chapter can be broken down into smaller sections. Write each small section in one breath before moving on to the next. You'll be amazed at how fast and focused you are as a memoir writer.

Fourth, show, don't tell.

The best memoir reads like a novel. You should describe settings vividly and let dialogues illustrate incidents naturally. Telling or analysis can be added as needed, but they shouldn't dominate the narration.

Fifth, be credible without defaming anyone.

Remember, no man or woman is an island, so neither is an author. You might feel compelled to share about incidents that were significant in your life. But would it cause someone to be embarrassed or, even worse, defame their character?

Be clear about the people you mention. Don't sacrifice their good names for the memoir. You can always include a disclaimer at the beginning, indicating that some names and places have been changed to protect people's privacy. This way, you don't need to worry about potential lawsuits.

Writing a memoir is both a great exercise to polish your professional skills and an emotionally satisfying thing to do. With the right theme, premise, form, and type, you might even give birth to a best-selling memoir. All you need is to start writing.

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Jennifer Xue
Staff Blogger at ProWritingAid and Corporate Content Specialist

Jennifer Xue is an award-winning e-book author with 2,500+ articles and 100+ e-books/reports published under her belt. She also taught 50+ college-level essay and paper writing classes. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Business.com, Business2Community, Addicted2Success, Good Men Project, and others. Her blog is JenniferXue.com. Follow her on Twitter @jenxuewrites.