7 Ways To Outline Your Memoir (& Why You Should Definitely Do It)

7 Ways To Outline Your Memoir (& Why You Should Definitely Do It)


Are you writing a memoir? In this post, we give you seven ways to outline your memoir and tell you why you should do it.

Before you outline or write a memoir, you need to gather all the information you will need. This research includes gathering documents, talking to relatives, and researching the era to jog your memory. I suggest you read the 5 Top Tips For Turning Memories Into A Book to help you do this. This information is invaluable and you will be able to reference it at any time while you are writing. You will not need to stop writing because you can’t remember something.

Once this research has been completed, it’s a good idea to outline your memoir. This will help you find a shape to your story.

Remember that a memoir is not an autobiography. A memoir is based on memory, and it is personal. It focuses on an event, theme, era, or choice in a life. It is not your whole life story. Once you have defined the theme of your memoir, you will be able to tell what you need to include and what you need to leave out. Must-Read: Writing A Memoir? Narrow Your Focus

7 Ways To Outline Your Memoir

Your memoir outline can be:

  1. A detailed questionnaire that shows your story. We suggest using this one: The Only Character Questionnaire You Need to Complete (Answer the questionnaire and then use the period of your life that is relevant to the memoir.) You can also complete these prompts to get to know yourself better: 127 Prompts To Finish Before You Write About Yourself
  2. A reworking of The Hero’s Journey. This works well for memoirs.
  3. A series of index cards with a list of the people in your story (describe each person) and a series of index cards of the major scenes and sequels in chronological order. (Pin these cards up on a wall where you write.)
  4. A structured timeline.
  5. A list of all the scenes (usually 40-60) in your memoir. Read: Name Each Scene – A Simple Way To Motivate Your Memoir (Pin this up on a wall where you write.)
  6. One-page chapter-by-chapter outlines. Write one page for each chapter in your story, explaining what you are going to cover in that chapter.
  7. A one-page synopsis. This may be the most difficult of the options, but it will help you to remember that you are writing a memoir and not an autobiography and that you can’t include everything.

[If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.]

Why You Should Do It Before You Write A Word

  1. Avoid writer’s block. Writing by the seat of your pants may work for some fiction writers, but it’s difficult for memoirists. We don’t know where to start. We’re not sure what to include. We tend to go off on tangents and lose the plot when we are writing about ourselves. We include too many details and irrelevant scenes. If you get stuck, you simply look at the outline and move on.
  2. You solve problems before you begin. You can tell if your story will fit into one book, or if you might need more than one book to tell your entire story. If you know what to include and you know you have to fit it into about 60 000 words, you will be able to tell if you are going off course. It will help you avoid repeating yourself by writing too many similar scenes.
  3. You will save time. There will be fewer rewrites and edits. Creating a solid outline is similar to writing a first draft. When you start writing, you will be on the second draft, depending on how much research and outlining you have done. You will be able to write more quickly because you have a plan. The freedom of having an outline allows you to concentrate on telling your story and not wondering what you’re going to write next.
  4. Your creativity will be stimulated. By thinking everything through and planning your story you’re stimulating the creative process. You will have so much material to draw on that you will be able to craft a wonderful story.

Try one, or more, of these ways to outline your memoir. It will probably improve your chances of finishing your book.

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.

 by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

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If you want to read more about memoirs:

  1. Name Each Scene – A Simple Way To Motivate Your Memoir
  2. Why First Person Present Tense Is Perfect For Your Memoir
  3. How A Flashbulb Memory Can Help You Define Your Memoir
  4. 10 Memoir Mistakes Writers Should Avoid At All Costs
  5. Use The 7 Deadly Sins To Define Your Memoir