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Memoir Writing Prompts

Instructor: Andrea Losa
A memoir is a personal account of a life experience or a period in your life that shaped you or impacted you in some way. To help you get the creative juices flowing, read on to learn about some possible memoir topics and prompts, discover some tips for writing your memoir, and find links to writing help resources.

Memoir Prompts and Topics

Your memoir can be about whatever you want it to be about, anything about yourself that you would like to share with others. If you have an urge to write but are not yet sure about what, let the following topics and ideas help you get started.

The Most Interesting Thing that Ever Happened to You

We all have some event or events in our lives that have stayed in our memory. It could be that these events are those that define us, or changed our understanding of ourselves. Maybe it was a road trip you took with your best friends. Maybe it was the time you saved someone's life, or someone saved yours. It could be a time you got to meet one of your heroes or the experience of moving to another country. Look at what you consider the most interesting or influential experience in your life. Why did this event stay with you? Did you learn something from it? Do you have regrets about it? How did this event define you? How did it impact your view of yourself or others?

Major Life Events

Think about the milestones in your life you have crossed. Have you gotten married? Served in the military? Graduated high school or college? Had a child or children? You might even think about the first major loss you encountered in your life. Explore the ways that these major events have shaped your life. Have they changed your perspectives? If so, how? If not, why?

What Makes You, You

Another angle to take to formulate ideas for your memoir is to think about the way you define yourself. Imagine you were going to write a character sketch of yourself. Think not just of your physical appearance, but the aspects of your personality. When you try to define yourself, what comes to mind? Your family? Your friends? Your job? Where you are from? How have these people and things influenced who you are today? What, if anything, do they tell you about yourself?

In Your Dreams

Have you ever found yourself revisiting some place from your past in your dreams? Maybe you remember the sights, the smells, and the people you associated with that time. What makes you go back to this place in your dreams? Are these happy memories for you, or sad? Is this a time in your life that is still relevant to your present, or is it a time you never thought about until you dreamt it? Use vivid descriptive language to recount this time and what you take from it.

Memoir Topics

A lot of great ideas start with a simple subject. An idea can mean a variety of things to a variety of people and result in many stories. Select a topic that interests you, and tell a story from your life about it:

  • Your favorite place
  • Your best or worst day(s)
  • Your most memorable teacher(s)
  • Your most prized possession
  • Someone you will always remember
  • Something about your life or yourself you wish you could change
  • Your proudest moment
  • Winter/summer/fall
  • Food
  • Love
  • Sports, music or books
  • Your childhood

How to Tell Your Story

Your memoir need not have the length or scope of an autobiography, nor the focus of a personal essay; rather, your memoir can explore a particular aspect of your life that is meaningful to you and can involve multiple memories that center on a specific idea or theme. While there are no standard rules for memoir writing, here are some ideas that might help you tell your story:

  • Memoirs are often told in the first person. Try to cultivate a voice that is very similar to your own in writing your memoir. It may be helpful to imagine you are telling a story to a relative or friend.
  • Objectivity is always helpful in telling a meaningful, complex story. Make connections between the experience or experiences you are detailing and other aspects of your life.
  • Remember that objectivity is not necessarily the same as complete factuality. The act of remembering is a reconstructive act that sometimes involves forgetting certain details or creating others. In writing your story, try to capture the essence of what you think is important, and fill in any memory gaps accordingly.
  • As with any piece of writing you produce, consider your audience. If you are interested in writing for publication, try to think of why your story would be interesting to readers and what sort of readers you are interested in reaching. Use descriptive language and literary devices to engage your readers.
  • Don't put too many constraints on yourself in writing your first draft, but after it is complete, proofread, edit, and revise. Get feedback on your work from other writers, teachers, professors, or your school's writing center.
  • Look up your favorite authors and see if they have ever published works about their own lives, or research the works of some popular memoirists, such as Elie Wiesel, Jeanette Walls, Frank McCourt, Mary Karr, Mitch Albom, and David Sedaris. Study the different styles the authors employ, the subject matter they cover, the forms they utilize, and the impact their stories have had.

Online Writing Resources

Learning to write a compelling piece is an ongoing process. These Study.com resources, though they may pertain to particular certifications, will help you with the craft of writing itself, and include chapters and lessons on developing and improving your mechanics, finding out how to revise your work, and learning how to produce works of creative writing. Review the courses to select the chapters that are most relevant to what you are seeking help with, and practice developing your skills by taking the lesson and chapter quizzes.

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