Anita Agers Brooks, Karen Jordan

Writing a Memoir?

And the winner is …

“The scariest moment is always just before you start” (Stephen KingOn Writing)

What is a memoir? “I had to look up the definition of a memoir before I wrote my entry for this contest,” one writer confessed to me.

“Congratulations!” I responded, acknowledging her award.

This writer’s research paid off. Plus, she chose an inspiring, true story from her life, and she engaged her readers with a meaningful message using creative nonfiction techniques.

Since I judged the entries to this contest, I also noticed that some of the other aspiring and experienced writers needed to do a little research before they write a memoir. So, I thought that I would share a little of what I’ve learned as a memoirist in my next couple of posts.

My journey to memoir writing began when I enrolled in a class on writing for publication about three decades ago. But I really didn’t hear the term “memoir” much until I took some nonfiction writing classes a decade later.

BookCover/JBarringtonOne of my favorite professors at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Dr. Sally Crisp, recommended a very helpful book on that subject by another writing teacher, Judith Barrington. Barrington describes her book, Writing the Memoir, as a “practical guide to the craft, the personal challenges, and ethical dilemmas of writing your true stories.”

Writing a memoir? Below are some questions that I’m asking myself when I write a memoir.

  • BookCover.WZinsserDoes my memoir have a focused theme or topic? William Zinsser discusses the memoir in his book On Writing Well. “Memoir isn’t the summary of a life (like autobiography); it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition” (136).
  • Does my memoir have a narrative arc?  A memoir tells a story about certain people, places, or events from the writer’s personal life.
  • Does my story reflect my personal thoughts or beliefs? The writer’s thoughts and beliefs about the events are a vital part of in the memoir.
  • What is the tone of my memoir? The narrative voice reflects on her thoughts and feelings in an intimate, conversational, and honest manner.

Creative NonfictionThe memoir tells a true story using creative nonfiction techniques.

  • Contains all the elements of fiction.
  • Moves back and forth in time.
  • Requires believable dialogue, based on truth.
  • Switches from scene to summary to musing.


What resources can you recommend on memoir writing?

Photo/KarenJordanKaren Jordan encourages others to “tell the stories that matter most.” Find links to her writing workshops, speaking topics, and other online connections at

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