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Writing A Powerful Memoir: 10 Tips for Older Adults

By Sophia Young

A memoir is a historical account of people, events, and key moments in your life. It’s about what you have lived through—challenges you faced, lessons you learned, and experiences that shaped who you are.

As an older adult, writing a memoir is a wonderful project to pursue. Regardless of your living situation, whether you’re living independently in your own home or staying in an assisted living facility or a nursing home, sharing your life story through writing can be profoundly healing and cathartic. Not only does writing a memoir let you leave a record and legacy for your family and friends, but it also gives you an opportunity to reflect—to understand yourself and your life better.

You’ve suffered pain, faced rejections, celebrated wins, overcome obstacles, and achieved your goals. You’ve led a full life, with valuable life lessons and wisdom to share. So, what’s stopping you from writing? You don’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize winner to start writing your memoir. The truth is, anyone who has written an email, letter, poem, short story, or even a school essay, can write a memoir.

You can write your memoir.

Here is a list of writing tips to help you get started with crafting your compelling and meaningful life story.

Don’t Write Your Entire Biography

Similar to an autobiography, a memoir is a first-person account of your life. Both are based on your real-life experiences, with the goal to give readers a better insight into how these experiences defined you as a person. Unlike an autobiography, a memoir does not aim to provide a complete, chronological record of various periods in your life, from your birth till the present moment of writing. Instead, it allows you to focus on specific moments, significant events, as well as emotional truths and realizations, that influenced the course of your life.

Don’t Start from the Very Beginning

It’s tempting to start your story at the beginning of your life and then work your way up from there. While this is typical of a biography, the best memoirists do not share their stories in chronological order. Most of the time, they begin by recounting a memorable event or by telling a riveting narrative from their lives. After that, they go back and fill in the gaps. Use this technique to help pique your readers’ interest right away.

Choose the Theme for Your Memoir

Determine the theme or focus for your memoir, then illustrate this theme with specific scenes. Like any novel, a memoir should have a central idea or unifying element running through it. To identify your theme, ask yourself—what are the most valuable things you’ve learned throughout your life? How have you overcome obstacles and challenges? What have your experiences taught you? And what will your readers gain from reading about your life?

A memoir is more than just a list of experiences and events in your life. What distinguishes a memoir from other forms of writing is the overarching theme or message that your readers can take away from it.

Focus on What’s Essential

After establishing your main theme and message, it’s time to do a little mind mapping. List all memories related to your theme, from your early childhood to your newest grandchild’s birth. Think about your family and friends, your education and achievements, your first love and first job, marriage and children, hopes and dreams, regrets and resentments, successes and failures.

While every one of these played a role in your life, remember that you’re not supposed to include all of your loved ones and life events in your memoir. Instead, focus only on the people and events that are essential to the primary theme you’re exploring and sharing with your readers.

Make sure to draw connections between your stories. Each story you tell must relate to your theme for your readers to understand it. You want to connect the dots so that by the time your readers get to the last page of your memoir, your message comes full circle.

Write as a Means of Reflection

A memoir is distinct from first-person fiction because you are narrating genuine stories that happened to you. It lets you ponder on the differing views of the younger person you were back then and the older—and hopefully wiser—you now. Throughout your memoir, allow yourself to reflect on what you know now that you wish you knew then and how each moment contributed to who you are today.

Each chapter should draw your readers to your current situation and explain how every memory influenced who you have become. Let your readers in on your process of self-discovery, and their own experience will be richer for it.

Show, Don’t Tell

One of the most difficult aspects of memoir writing is transforming your own experiences into something that the reader can relate to and appreciate. One of the best ways to ensure your readers will not find your memoir boring is to create a sensory experience for them. Show rather than tell by infusing your writing with more emotion. Fill your memoir with vivid details, using all of your senses to communicate your narrative and transport your readers to the memories you wish to share.

To give color and life to your writing, do not explain emotions. Instead, explain the physical responses related to these emotions by describing body language in detail. For example, rather than simply writing “I was afraid,” describe how your hands were shaking, how goosebumps appeared all over your body, or how your heart was pounding loudly against your chest.

Write Truthfully

One of the most challenging parts of writing a memoir is overcoming our natural bias toward ourselves. Nobody enjoys admitting their weaknesses and flaws. It's one thing to recognize when you've made a mistake in life, but it's quite another to write it down for all to see. We want everyone to see the greatest version of ourselves, so we omit things or outright lie to make ourselves appear "better" in our readers’ eyes.

But that is not what makes a memoir meaningful. You must learn to be honest in order to write a memoir that truly impacts people on a deep, emotional level. Write honestly and openly about your experiences. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and open to the truth that shaped who you are today. If you try to hide your feelings and imperfections in any way, it will show up in your memoir and make it less effective.

Reveal Your Personality

You want your readers to get a feel of who you are not just through your stories and experiences but also from the tone of your writing. Nobody wants to read a monotonous account of your life, so don’t hesitate to put your personality into your memoir. Your readers want to learn more about your life, and this means they want to see more of you in the writing. So, write in the same manner that you speak. Communicate with your readers the way you would talk to a friend.

Here are some ways you could put more of yourself into the pages of your memoir:

  • Make use of literary devices.

  • Add your personal jargon.

  • If you use swear words in your daily conversations, don’t be afraid to add them to your memoir.

  • If you get the impulse to write something you believe is hilarious or clever, go ahead and do it.

Write a Memoir You Would Enjoy Reading

How can you ensure other people will like reading your memoir? Write it in such a way that you will enjoy reading it yourself. This is not just about injecting your own personality into it, but it's also about creating an exciting structure for your story. Even though this is a memoir and not a novel, there should be a compelling climax to keep your readers engaged. This would be the pivotal point in your life when you struggled but were able to emerge from the trenches and make your own way.

Write Every Day

This may seem obvious, but the best thing you can do to begin writing your memoir is to write every day. Make an effort to establish a routine. Choose a location—whether it’s at home, in your study or garden, at a coffee shop, the local library, the public park, or even on a train if that inspires you—where you can write every day. Set a deadline and daily word count goal for yourself then regularly check to see if you're on track to reach your deadline.

If you're having trouble completing your memoir, you can do daily free writing activities to help you build your writing muscles and unlock areas of your memoir you’re struggling with.

This is Your Story

The most important takeaway here is that this is your story, your life, your journey, and it should be told exactly how you want it to be told. Whatever you decide to write about, keep in mind that this isn't just about creating a book. There's nothing like being able to communicate your life experiences in a way that resonates with others and has the potential to impact lives. Writing your memoir is a rewarding process of self-discovery that also has the power to change and shape your readers’ lives.

Want to know how to reach a bigger audience with your book? Read on here!


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