An Industry Expert Guide to Writing a Winning Memoir

08 Aug 2022


Memoir writing is nothing new. In fact, memoirs have existed since the first century B.C.E. One of the most well-known memoir writers from that period was Julius Caesar, whose memoir, “Commentaries on the Gaelic Wars,” was published into eight books.

Not only did Caesar’s work give us an insight into one of the most remarkable times in history, it also conceptualized the very mind of Julius Caesar himself. Caesar wrote his “Commentaries” in third-person narrative, another intriguing fact given that many historians argue about some of the credibility of his claims.

The text is now seen as somewhat of a propaganda attempt for Caesar’s continual reign. But it is still a remarkable record of a history and yes—human experience!

Writing a memoir is one of the greatest ways to celebrate the human experience. It can help us take ownership of significant life events, find answers in hidden places, and reclaim those moments that stay with us eternally.

While it may be true that everyone has a story that could light up a hundred pages, that doesn’t mean they ever actually get around to writing it down.

There are many reasons why a person would want to write a memoir. However, the idea of summarizing an entire lifetime’s worth of memories can be daunting.

And just as with every genre, memoir writing is an art form that requires a unique set of skills.

In this article, we share with you our memoir ghostwriters’ process for using research skills to improve the quality and impact of a memoir.

Writing a Memoir: The Importance of Time

At the essence of memoir writing is the representation of time. What makes a memoir so appealing is the narrator’s ability to reflect this life-sized story in a completely original and captivating manner.

Consider the award-winning memoir Clothes, Music, Boys by punk icon Viv Albertine. Viv was pivotal in developing the punk scene in 1970s London.

But before she was dating the Clash’s Mike Jones and squatting in Amsterdam, she was an awkward, shy teenager. Her life changed over the years when artists were rapidly questioning the status quo. The working-class upbringing of her younger life had a very different feel from when she was hanging out in Vivienne Westwood’s famous clothing shop that dressed all the major punk bands, including the Sex Pistols.

Viv Albertine painted clear pictures of these differences. She committed solely to the place in history that each chapter was representing. You will need to do the same for your own story.

The first step in memoir writing is mapping out the specific timeframes that your memoir will cover. Next, you will need to research everything that you can about those dates.

Ask yourself now: What are the main time frames that your memoir will visit? What comes to mind when you bring yourself back to a specific time in your life, say your childhood?

What sort of senses do you relate back to this part of history?

Do you remember the flavor of a popsicle you would eat on the way home from school? What sort of clothes and hairstyles were people wearing on the streets? How did everyone communicate?

Usually, every era has its own unique set of catchphrases and dialects. What sort of phrases were going around?

Once you start to awaken these memories, you can grow your knowledge by research surrounding that time.

At The Writer’s For Hire, when our ghostwriters work on a memoir, they will ask these sorts of questions throughout a stage of interviews with the client. The client’s musings, old photographs, and recollections are essential resources for the ghostwriter, as they are the very bones of the book.

Our ghostwriters may ask clients to root through vintage records they used to play in their bedroom. Maybe they’ll have the client rewatch some old-school television series.

Bringing the client back into that time frame will give the setting far more depth and credibility.

Depending on when your book is set, you should engulf yourself in as much nostalgia as relates to your story. This approach will strengthen the accounts of memories that you may not have considered for many years.

Memoir Writing and Location

While you are mapping out your memoir timeline, you will also be making notes of the different places that your memoir will cover. Time and place in writing are known as a book’s setting.

Memoirs with a strong setting are always sought after. When our ghostwriters commence work on a memoir, they will find many creative ways of researching the book’s different locations. They may use Google Earth to discover the layout of a client’s old school grounds, for example.

Our ghostwriters also frequently travel to a specific site or place referenced in the memoir.

As the relationship between the client and writer grows, so too does the ghostwriter’s knowledge of the places of interest.

Our ghostwriters might ask the client to recall their childhood bedroom: what the ceilings were like, whether it got cold in winter, and what sort of posters they chose to decorate their walls with.

There are details in everyone’s lives that reveal snippets of a time, place, and character—and it is all relevant.

If you are lucky enough to be in close proximity to your family home, take a trip and rummage through the old storage to see what you can find. Take a look back at family photo albums. Look at newspaper clippings from your town and what the shop fronts and villages used to look like.

You may be surprised by how much you have forgotten—or by how much you remember! This sort of personal research encourages and evokes memories. When it is time to sit down and write, you will have a lot more to think about and describe.

How Ghostwriters Conduct Interviews for Memoir Writing

A memoir is usually written in the first person. It can often feel a little strange, being the voice and main character of a book, even if it is autobiographical—especially if it is autobiographical!

At The Writers For Hire, our memoir ghostwriters will often say: “We are all the main characters of our own story.”

The reason people enjoy reading autobiographical work so much is that it challenges us to consider what we would do in a similar situation.

When a story is written with honesty, usually portraying struggle, strife, and hopeful victory, it has the power to impact a huge audience.

The fear of family opinions or untold truths can sometimes be enough to throw budding writers off altogether. But it shouldn’t.

You see, memoir writing is different from autobiography writing. A memoir has the potential to create art out of memories, as opposed to just writing them down chronologically.

This is what our ghostwriters can help you with.

For a memoir project, our ghostwriters interview clients over a number of months. That way, they can grasp the voice and phrases unique to that client, as well as their first-hand accounts of things. Very often, these interviews will be recorded to be referred to later.

But the ghostwriter doesn’t stop there. Often, they may invite a family member or friend to join in on the memory or event being recalled.

It can be helpful to hear a client converse with their loved ones, noting how their mannerisms change or what sort of insider jokes they share with their family.

Such interviews can also evoke storytelling out of families. Sometimes these are stories the client themselves have never heard.

People often need to be encouraged in order to recall the right details and accounts of important events. This process of interviewing and involving certain “characters” can also massively help the budding memoir writer get over their fear of releasing their story.

By engaging loved ones in the journey of the book before it is published, showing family and friends the finished piece doesn’t feel so daunting.

It can be very special to have others be involved in the process and help recount impactful memories of a time now passed.

Of course, some people prefer to be the sole interviewees, but that doesn’t mean they won’t draw from family accounts.

They may have letters from great aunties or from their parents before they were wed. They might have kept every Christmas card from a best friend that they no longer speak to.

This collection of information and detail is always a prime focal point in memoir writing.

Memoir Research Through Newspapers, Photographs, and Other Assets

Many people who have been sitting on a memoir for a number of years have already started collecting certain files that co-relate to their story. Some have a dozen USBs with scanned old photographs correctly titled. Others are just starting.

Whatever stage you’re at, our ghostwriters can assist you with the sort of materials you should be collecting, as well as how these materials can be used for research.

You may have heard how some writers create mood boards or even Pinterest groups for a book that they are working on. It is a good idea to adopt a similar practice when writing your memoir. This is a more practical side to memoir research and one that the ghostwriter can greatly help you with.

Memoir ghostwriters are very comfortable with handling massive amounts of memorabilia. They can give you advice on how to acquire more first-hand resources for your research. Acquiring as much data as possible will help to keep the writing process smooth and seamless.

Similarly, when Julius Caesar was publishing his “Commentaries on the Gaelic Wars,” he first handed down writing tasks to staff who would take notes on wax-covered tablets. Later, they would properly print the words on expensive papyrus paper.

With memoir writing, things like newspaper clippings, photographs from all decades, old radio interviews, and family tape recordings have the potential to enrich a memoir with authenticity.

There are also many ways that you can include certain photographs and memorabilia in the final book.

All in all, memoir writing finds its strength through the power of research. If you are ready to embark on the path of your own story, then why not get in touch and see how our writers can help you make that happen?

As we often say, the only difference between published authors and budding authors is this: A manuscript cannot be discovered if it’s kept locked inside a desk drawer.

Sarah Hamilton 

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