Four memoir mistakes to avoid

mistakes to avoid in memoirs

Writing a memoir can be a profoundly fulfilling experience for many people. It allows a writer to face their own truth and share it with others in meaningful ways. Sometimes, it can even be a form of catharsis that enables a person to take control of their past and heal from it.

Writing a memoir can challenge even the most accomplished writer. There are many pitfalls writers must be careful to avoid to ensure their book engages and captivates readers.

To help you steer clear of these mistakes, we’ve listed a few below:

1. Writing for only yourself

When writing a memoir, it’s important for you to know who you’re writing for. It isn’t like journalling where you’re writing for yourself. You need to remember a memoir is a collection of your memories for sharing with others—often with people who don’t know you on a personal level.

This means you need to write your memoir so everyone can connect with it. Provide just enough detail so your reader can understand the context of your writing, but not too much that might alienate or confuse them. Remember: one goal of writing a memoir is for you to share a story that your reader finds meaningful and can relate to.

2. Including your entire life story

Writing a memoir and an autobiography involves different narrative techniques. In an autobiography, a writer typically recounts their entire life experience—from birth up to recent events. This isn’t the case with a memoir where the writer focuses on a collection of specific memories such as a trip to Paris or a theme like raising cocker spaniels or cooking organic vegetables.

When writing a memoir choose a specific milestone from your past and concentrate solely on it. The idea is for you to develop a story that has a clear beginning and end. If you keep recounting unrelated events or trying to cover too much territory, you risk diluting the story and overall message.

Besides, focusing your memoir on just one aspect of your life means you’ll have plenty of stories and inspiration left over for the next one…or the series of memoirs you’re itching to write.

3. Not having a villain

Every superb story needs a villain, and your memoir is no different. It’s a crucial element in almost all storytelling—one that provides an opposing force that drives the plot forward and encourages readers to become invested in the characters and outcome. Your villain need not be a person. It can be a problem or an idea you had to overcome. The intention is to make it clear to the reader that certain things are at stake, prompting them to read on and ultimately, feel a sense of accomplishment once they reach the end. You want to keep them reading to the last page.

4. Taking too many liberties

Using elements of fiction is a clever way to bring your story to life but remember you must ground your memoir in reality. You can’t take too many liberties with characters and events you write about, or you risk making the reader doubt your credibility.

As you write, remember the goal is to provide a depiction of the truth according to your experience of it. There’s no need to fabricate or exaggerate, so be honest with yourself and your reader.

The path ahead for writing your memoir

When you keep these common memoir writing mistakes in mind, you’ll write a story that inspires your readers. While you are free to tell your story in whatever way you desire, these errors can mean the difference between a compelling memoir that captures the imagination and hearts of your readers and a dull one they put down after the first page. Make sure you stay conscious of potential snags so you create a story you can be truly proud of.

Not too keen on writing? A professional storyteller can help you share your story with your loved ones and generations to come. They will interview you, write your story and publish it as a beautiful book. Get in touch with one of Life Stories Australia’s members today for a free consultation!

Gabriella Kelly-Davies

Founder, Share your life story

Vice-President Life Stories Australia