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Outline for Memoirs & Biographies

Memoirs and autobiographies are the most emotionally taxing forms of writing because they require you to recall events from your past, some of which could be traumatic.

If you’ve had an especially traumatic past, we at Nkengasong Press recommend that you seek counsel from a therapist before and during the process of writing your memoir. Seeing a therapist helps you make peace with your past, which in turn also helps you write an introspective book. Also, writing a memoir/autobiography while still having unresolved traumas will either leave you unable to complete the project, or leave you in a compromising emotional state once the project is complete.

Now, let’s get to our tips for outlining that memoir/autobiography to assure that the final product is a work of art that your audience will enjoy reading. Some of the general outlining concepts explored in the post, “General Non-Fiction Books Outline” will be applicable for your memoir/autobiography, nonetheless, this post will provide you with outlining tips for those specific forms of writing.

Before we share those tips, it’s important that we distinguish between a memoir and an autobiography. A memoir is a piece of nonfiction that a person writes to document certain moments in their life, and an autobiography is a book a person writes to document their entire life story.

1. Know Your Starting Point

The starting point is important when writing a memoir/autobiography. Obviously, if you’re writing an autobiography, the book will typically start with your birth. We recommend that you be creative when detailing the circumstances leading to your birth, nonetheless. A memoir on the other hand can begin with any life moment of your choosing. Where the memoir is concerned, we would recommend that you choose to start the memoir off with a captivating story that mirrors the essence of the memoir.

2. Make a List of Your Most Impactful Moments

Before writing your memoir/autobiography, take some time to sit down and process the most impactful moments of your life. As mentioned earlier, seeing a therapist will be a great way to synthesize those moments. Having a list of the most impactful moments in your life will dictate how you write the memoir/autobiography. While your autobiography should include most if not all of those impactful moments, you don’t have to include every minute detail of your life in the autobiography. Keep in mind that nowadays, books are best kept around the 300-page mark. As for the memoir, pick out the impactful moments of your life that you’d like to convey in your book—this could consist of the moments on which you’re most comfortable focusing.

3. Do Your Research

Even when we are writing about our own lives, we can sometimes get details wrong. As such, when writing your memoir/autobiography, be sure to ask family and friends about certain moments just to have a more clear understanding of the particular situation—that doesn’t mean that you follow whatever narrative they tell you. You should still be staying true to what you believe is the truth. This is your story! Nonetheless, in so doing, make sure you’re emotionally ready to deal with potential pushback from those who remember the events differently.

4. Know the Order of the Book

While an autobiography should go in chronology order, starting from the beginning to the most recent time of your life, a memoir doesn’t have to follow that same order. The order should be based on how you’d like to compile your life's moments to make the greatest impact on your reader. The main point of your memoir can instruct how you order your memories. For example, if the purpose of the memoir is to explore your career choices, order your stories in a way that best highlights that purpose.

5. Highlight Challenges & How You Overcame Them

While some people read autobiographies or memoirs just because they're curious about a particular person's life. We believe that most people read autobiographies and memoirs to gain information on someone’s life in hopes that that person's life story will inspire their own personal growth. Accordingly, when choosing what moments to highlight in your project, be sure to include stories about your past failures or tough moments and how you overcame them. Being vulnerable is important if your goal is to write an impactful memoir/autobiography.

As mentioned before, the tips provided in our general non-fiction book outline are also instructive when writing your memoir/autobiography.

Checkout our next blog post on how to transfer the information in you outline into a book.

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