The Memoirist's Checklist

The Ultimate Memoirist’s Checklist


If you’re writing – or finished writing – a memoir, use our ultimate memoirist’s checklist to check your story.

I have created a checklist for memoir writers to help you find out if you’re on the right track. I got the idea from Mary Karr’s Memoir Checklist, which you will find in her book, The Art of Memoir. I think my list is probably more practical and useful for first-time memoirists.

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

The Memoirist’s Checklist

  1. Are you writing a memoir or an autobiography? Remember that a memoir is not an autobiography. It is not about your entire life. Autobiographies are usually history text books about famous people. Read: What’s The Difference Between An Autobiography And A Memoir?
  2. Should you rather be writing fiction? If you are not writing the truth about what happened, you should consider writing fiction. Read: 6 Differences Between A Novel & A Memoir
  3. Have you done your research? Have you interviewed people and collected all the data you need? Have you made lists to help you jog your memory? Read: The 5 Top Tips For Turning Memories Into A Book
  4. Has something changed? Why is this day different? We read memoirs to experience somebody else’s life vicariously. We read to experience an interesting or inspiring or frightening account of a life. So, ask yourself: What changed? What happened that put me on this path? This is usually where you start your memoir.
  5. Are you empathetic and relatable? Readers need to feel for you. This does not mean that you need to hide the dark side of your character. It means that you need to show reasons why you behaved the way you di. Read: 5 Essential Tips For Writing A Memoir
  6. Have you focused on one theme? Have you narrowed your focus for this project? ‘A memoir focuses on a time, or an event, or series of events, or a choice, that is tied together with a theme. It is not your entire life story.’ Read: Writing A Memoir? Narrow Your Focus
  7. Have you re-created your settings? Readers must be able to picture the setting as they read your story. The settings must be as real to them as they were to you. Read: How To Create Perfect Settings In Your Memoir
  8. Are your descriptions specific? Be as specific as you can be. Include vegetation, time, seasons, and weather. Use street names and name places to make them come to life. Read: How To Create Perfect Settings In Your Memoir
  9.  Have you used the five senses? Anton Chekhov said: ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ Using the five senses helps you to show the story. If you do, the reader will be able to tastesmellheartouch, and see your story with you. Read: The Power Of The 5 Senses In Stories
  10. Have you included dialogue? Dialogue helps you to show and not tell. It is an excellent way to write about real people in your story. Dialogue is part of life and the people in your life spoke. So, use it to to show conflict and to increase suspense in your memoir.
  11. Have you written in first person present tense? This is really the best way to write a memoir. Because of the personal, confidential aspects of memoirs, it is preferable to write in first person. To create the immediacy of the experience, it is preferable to write in present tense. Read: Why First Person Present Tense Is Perfect For Your Memoir
  12. Have you followed a timeline? Does your story make sense? Does it follow a logical sequence of events? Creating a timeline for your memoir may be one way of checking that this works.
  13. Have you included scenes and sequels? You need 50-60 of these storytelling units in your book. Please read: Yes, You Do Need Scenes And Sequels In Memoirs
  14. Have you included enough conflict? Don’t shy away from outer conflict by focusing on inner conflict. Make sure you have enough of both. Read: Mistakes Writers Make With Conflict In Memoirs
  15. Have you learned something? People read memoirs to find out what you learned along the way – and how you coped. Have you been transformed in some way? Read: 7 Really Good Reasons To Write A Memoir
  16. Have you been fair to others in your story? Other people should not be caricatures. They should be three-dimensional people. Read: 5 Ways To Write About Real People In Memoirs
  17. Have you been true to yourself? Have you told your story as honestly as you could? Do you feel good about the way you have told it? This is the most important question in the memoirist’s checklist.

The Last Word

Even though you’re not writing fiction, you still need to use many fiction writing techniques to keep your readers turning the page. If you need help writing a memoir, use this ultimate memoirist’s checklist.

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

 by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

If you liked this blogger’s writing, you may enjoy:

  1. 40 Ways To Write About Empathy
  2. How To Choose Your Genre
  3. What Is An Analogy & How Do I Write One?
  4. 10 Tips For Retelling A Classic Tale
  5. Characterisation Exercise: Then & Now

If you want to read more about memoirs:

  1. 5 Ways To Write About Real People In Memoirs
  2. 5 Common Traits Of A Successful Memoir
  3. 6 Differences Between A Novel & A Memoir
  4. 7 Tips For Finding Your Memoir Mojo
  5. 7 Tips From Journalists To Write A Better Memoir

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