"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Writing a Memoir-- where to begin?

So you want to write your life story, or the memoir of a loved one-- a worthy endeavor, but where to begin? First you need to collect information. I posted about that earlier so go here and read then return.

Okay, once you have collected, what next? Organize! Think subject matter not chronology. When I wrote Farm Girl, the organization fell into place since my mother's memories covered the same topics over and over. School, Home, Family, the Community, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression. And because it was about her growing up years, the chapter organization could be somewhat chronological without being the dull routine of born in 1917, and then what happens each year after bla bla bla.

And this brings me to my next subject-- go for the gold, which in literary terms according to moi means to go for the story. Information is all very important, but only as it is useful for the story. I just finished reading the  memoir, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. She does an incredible job of drawing characters, creating tone and setting, giving background-- all leading to the story of her and her sister's imprisonment at Ravensbruck and what they learned there. And up until that point, she tells story after story to draw you in and keep you reading. Not in a random way, but brilliantly designed so that each event, story, chapter, and character in her narrative is necessary to the whole.

So there you have the three steps. One Two Three!

  • Collect information
  • Organize it
  • Build a story

Sounds so easy doesn't it? Well, I never said it would be easy. I only said it would be worth it!


  1. Awesome. I already have my Dad's journals and am working on gathering photos...I am SO GLAD I found your blog!!

  2. I just started teaching memoir writing to a group of retired missionaries! I have to admit the only memoir writing I have done is my stories in Chicken Soup, etc but am learning and am thrilled with the work they have produced. Trying to get them to write about their feelings and not only the facts:)

  3. Thanks for this KarenG! I like your bullet points - succint and incredibly helpful!

    Take care

  4. When you lay it out like that it doesn't sound too bad, but when I think about actually doing it, geez!!!


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