Posted by: marilynmendoza | October 5, 2011

how to write a memoir that doesn’t suck (part one)

  First of all while I was deep in my illness and self-hatred I would never think I had a right to give advice on anything . Now, because of my healing and because I’ve read many memoirs out there that do suck, I thought I would put my 2 cents in.  I am almost sure my memoir “From Agoraphobia to Zen ” doesn’t suck. I say almost sure because I am sure someone out there would disagree with me.

  My part one will be brief.  

1. Don’t disrespect your readers.

  a. Don’t publish a diary that even you would be bored by

 b. know what your point is in writing  your memoir and don’t assume your reader will get it if you are not sure

c. edit the dog gone book,

d edit the damn book   (this needs to be repeated)

No self-pity allowed

a I know you have been through the fire (we all have) but try to step out of your narrative and tell the story

b. If it is sad, gritty, traumatic , show it by the story and try not to comment or show your anger, revenge, hate etc

showing the story will be enough for your readers to be moved by it

  3. Structure your memoir

a. Every chapter should have

exposition —  introducing your characters and a sense of place and time

conflict.-  without it you don’t have a memoir. You have conflict that is why we write memoir

climax –   self-explanatory but every chapter needs one as well as the book as a whole

falling action.   this could be a quote, tying up the loose ends or showing what you learned from the experience – every chapter should have this

4 Words

This is such an important part I will do a part 2 on this subject. Words are how you tell your story, Make every word count.  have beauty in your words and make them reach your readers

I hope my post helps memoir writers in their journey. I am a big fan of memoir and I want all your stories to shine – I think a lot do because our stories are so important to us, but know we have to make them important to our readers   Aloha



  1. Great post. I have run across several memoirs where the authors were way more fascinated with their stories than I was. I also read a celebrity memoir that was “sweetly vengeful,” and it really diluted what was otherwise a strong story.

    You offer some great advice! I look forward to reading your memoir.

    • Thank you Nadine. I think if you respect your story and your readers this will come naturally. Respect your story, yes I like it , it might end up being my next post. . Let me know if you want an autographed copy by mail. Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow aloha

  2. Marilyn, I agree with your points about memoir writing. In the early drafts of my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, I dumped a lot of my self-pity into the story. As I revised the drafts that followed, I filtered out the self-pity and focused on showing my story through strong verbs, conflict and specific details. My editor offered excellent suggestions, which I followed as I edited the manuscript over and over. All the effort was well worth it, reader response has been very positive. I especially agree on the edit, edit, and edit again! Diane

  3. Marilyn,

    Wow! You really have found your voice! I agree with everything you
    say – all the advice you offer – and hope the sales of your memoir
    soars. One of these days we should exchange copies of our memoirs.
    Mine is, as I think you know: “FOUR ROOMS, UPSTAIRS:
    A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental
    Illness.” I think we speak the same language and would be touched
    (at very least) by one another’s stories.

    Warm regards,
    Linda (should you wish to read about me & my

  4. There will always be people who don’t like like your memoir for whatever reason. Sometimes it is too close to home, sometimes they can’t relate because they haven’t lived it. What is the most important part of writing a memoir is that you remember your audience and stay true to your purpose for writing. You have something to say and an audience who needs to hear it. You may only reach one or two but those people you do reach will be changed by your words forever. I was once told that if only one person shows up you teach the class because the most important person is there. It is the same with writing. You write because the most important person is there “You1” and in you audience the one you reach is the most important audience. Don’t worry about the others. The bible says: Lead and I will follow. It only takes one lamb to have a flock of followers. Best of luck to you Marilyn

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