How to start a memoir

Victoria Zackheim teaches memoir and personal essay at UCLA, in the Writer’s Extension program. She has developed a straightforward approach to start writing a memoir.

(1) The first step is to outline a chronology of your life, year by year. This will get you into the memory of things.

(2) Once this is done, research any significant year. What else was happening in 1973 when your father died? Include anything that explains your state of mind or actions at the time, but no extraneous information.

(3) Next is the fun part. Refer to your outline to create a series of vignettes, short stories, poems, and personal essays. Keep going until you have a body of work— say 20-50 pieces.

(4) Sift through them. What is the theme? What have you learned? What is the message that you want to share?

Once you know where the memoir is going you can start to string the stories together.

Anne Perry and Victoria Zackheim were on tour in April 2014 promoting their latest books. They spent over three hours mentoring writers at the California Writers Club, Apple Valley branch. Their focus was on how to approach writing projects. Zackheim is an experienced editor and an author specializing in memoir and personal essays. Anne Perry is recognized as one of the world’s top 100 masters of crime and her series of detective novels are set in historical fiction.


About jkConibear

Judy is from neither here, nor there, but those places in between. She is a cross-cultural writer whose works are unified by themes of identity and belonging. She escapes her suburban life by typing up stories, much to the dismay of her starving family.

Posted on May 26, 2014, in Article, Memoir, Writing Craft and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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