How to Write a Memoir in 10 Steps

How to Write a Memoir in 10 Steps

To be perfectly clear, I know this isn’t the most orthodox way to teach someone how to write a memoir in 10 Steps, but I submit that if you’re hung up on the literal how-to’s of writing a memoir, you aren’t really ready.

I don’t feel like diagramming sentences today.

That, and rudimentary how-to articles are largely about giving you the confidence to do a thing anyway. You can absolutely do this thing, but you should prepare first. Because if the surprising stuff turns out not to be a surprise, you’re basically unstoppable.

How to Write a Memoir

1. Get Thick Skin

2. Relive Your Trauma

3. Give People Fake Names

4. Find Enablers

5. Hold a Grudge Loudly

6. Be Discouraged

7. Read Other Memoirs

8. Feel Small

9. Write for Spite

10. Dig Up Your Past

The 10 Steps

1. Get Thick Skin

Forget what others have said about you (well don’t literally forget, you might need the fodder) and be prepared to look at your past self objectively. Lassoing that objectivity is even harder than it sounds, but it’s possible.

There are some faults you’re going to want to absolve yourself of in your writing—for me, naivety and cluelessness topped the list—don’t do it. You have to be willing to let readers see the warts. If your story is going to be relatable—if you’re serious about memoir writing—you must be authentic.

Absolution may still come to you, but not by glossing over the bits you don’t like. Be ready to criticize yourself. A lot.

2. Relive Your Trauma

I wasn’t prepared for the buried trauma that writing a memoir would resurface. I thought I was, but I was kidding myself. I literally had to take breaks and ultimately end my memoir to stop the constant onslaught of PTSD triggers.

3. Give People Fake Names

This is probably obvious, but there’s a certain kind of person you’ll need to write about who still Googles herself 15 years later. To avoid the headaches, just change her name.

Because even your best attempts at keeping ties severed may be thwarted.

My ex-husband actually joined my Patreon even though I did my best to rename people and switch up identifying characteristics. That’s a real thing that happened.

There are legal considerations too, but I am not a lawyer. If you have qualms, hire an attorney, please.

4. Find Enablers

Aside from needing money to pay bills after having brain surgery, there were a couple of motivating factors that kept me writing:

A former employer (who I name-drop in the preface of Who You Gonna Believe) and a couple of online friends behaved in such a way that I believed I could write. 

All of them read my blog at some point and encouraged me to write a memoir. I channeled them when I doubted I could succeed.

5. Hold a Grudge Loudly

There’s a great quote that I have seen floating around the internet attributed to Anne Lamott. (I see it a lot without attribution too, so who knows?) It goes something like: You own everything that’s ever happened to you. If people wanted you to write nicely about them, they should have behaved better.

You might feel like it’s in your best interest to withhold certain facts, but you don’t owe anyone your silence. You hear me?

6. Be Discouraged

Some people will say that memoir writers just want revenge. I, for example, fit the divorcee and undiagnosed cliches, since so much of the story is about my lousy ex-husband and my subsequent long slog to a medical diagnosis.

The naysayers discouraged me, not gonna lie. But then a funny thing happened: I realized they weren’t my readers and weren’t ever going to be my audience. Caring about their opinions was like asking the guy who sells gym memberships if my dress made me look fat.

7. Read Other Memoirs

You might just learn stuff you didn’t know would help you write. My favorite reads while I wrote Who You Gonna Believe were by John Lewis, Jenny Lawson, Leah Remini, and Mary Karr.

By the way, I highly recommend The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr.

Shop Recommended Memoirs

8. Feel Small

The odd thing about memoir writing is that it makes you self-aware. You see that other people have profoundly different stories to tell and feel like maybe your life isn’t that big of a deal. I say that’s a good thing.

Not only did a sense of smallness help me see my trauma as a mouse and not a monster, it helped me relate to my audience in a new way and craft a better story for them.

9. Write for Spite

So maybe spite isn’t what fuels you, but it was a big motivating factor for me—knowing that the awful people who denied so much of my truth couldn’t stop me now. That was empowering.

Yeah, I can be petty. I wrote to spite them, but also to spite the person they imagined me to be. The person I knew I wasn’t.

10. Dig Up Your Past

As a practical matter, memoir writing can be hard because our memories are faulty. I found I could settle the timeline of events if I dug through old blog posts. 

You might also find helpful details by talking to friends and family, reading a journal you kept, or poring over pictures. 

Social media timelines and archived chats are also useful if you have them available.

So that’s it. How to write a memoir in 10 steps. Easy, right?

if you’re looking for memoir publishing services, try a company like Modern Memoirs.

Give It Some Consideration

Give It Some Consideration

“Give it some consideration,” he says. At first you think maybe Rodney’s trying to do me a favor by playing up the whole garbage person bit. But then you remember: This is not an act.

After I announced that I’d be sharing Rodney’s emails—but before I got around to publishing Rodney Writes a Ruse—my ex-husband jumped back on my contact page and wrote me again on Wednesday, December 11. Presumably because as a Certifiable Attention Whore™ he was jonesin’ for his next bad publicity fix.

And cripes what a trainwreck his email is. Even people who question my decision to deal with a narcissist by putting his work on display must be having a hard time looking away from this one.

I’m going to take the line-by-line approach again on this for two reasons 1.) repeating the email text in the body of the post makes the content accessible for people using screen readers, and 2.) it worked well for me last time. Once again, Rodney’s words are highlighted with a gray background.

Emily — Like I mentioned in my last message. This is very good writing (the memoir, more precisely). Am I a narcissist for reading it? Yes, in your story I am.  Someone’s got to be the villain, right? All good storytelling has a villain.

Remember in the last episode when he praised me for how well I “showed his scumbaggery” and then I explained that he wasn’t truly accepting his faults? Right off the bat we’ve got him setting up a scenario in which I’ve sensationalized my portrayal of him.

Yes, I am “a self-professed compulsive liar, an unrepentant cheater, and an egomaniacal, manipulative boob” in your story. But I take umbrage with “boob.” I’m much worse. You give me too much credit.

Got whiplash yet? Imagine the pain in the neck you get from living with this shit 24/7 for five long, miserable years. The early part of our relationship did the most damage to me because I was completely ignorant of Rodney’s condition. And I don’t just mean I couldn’t see he had it because the relationship was shiny and new. I mean that at 23 I still had no clue being self-centered reached clinical levels in some people.

Aside from your medical problems, I’m glad you’re still writing.

I’d like to remind everyone that I am not a professional, but those who are say people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder lack the ability to identify with the feelings of others. Raise your hand if you think bringing up my brain cancer this late in the game and in such a dismissively unapologetic manner ought to go in a text book.

But, you know, thank Jesus he’s glad I’m still writing. I suddenly have a reason to live.

And, I hope you unblock me to read your next chapter.

I don’t think I’ll ever hate myself that much, but time will tell.

There are really two advantages: 1. I could write something like this message and my previous one, which gives you more material to work with and gives your readers more reason to hate me, which will give them more reason to read your work. (You don’t want to tell them that, because it’s a propaganda tactic that comes from the research done on compulsive lying in social settings.) 2. Following from (1), you’ll likely increase your following, reach, subscribers, etc. I know you know what happens with more subscribers. Give it some consideration.

I know you know what happens? Give it some consideration? Almost sounds like someone with delusions of grandeur just finished watching The Godfather.

I will never, ever hate my readers and subscribers that much. But it amuses me Rodney thinks he’s so good at this he can manipulate me into manipulating others all while making my platform (a platform I worked very hard to build over the years) susceptible to his treachery.

Despite all the horrible things that make his dysfunction worth academic study, he’s still just a mediocre white guy at his core. Trying to get out of doing the work. I welcome him to build his own platform if he’d like to show us the alternate reality in which he lives. I never considered at the outset that Who You Gonna Believe, a non-fiction webserial with humble beginnings on Patreon, would one day inspire fanfic—how flattering.

Rodney Writes a Ruse

Rodney Writes a Ruse

Last we talked, I promised to share that message from my ex-husband. Hope your popcorn isn’t cold! Also, apologies to the estate of Dr. Seuss for the Rodney Writes a Ruse thing. It just sort of happened.

Mobile screen capture of Rodney's message with identifying information in the header censored.

That’s it, folks. That’s a screenshot of the first email from the ex-husband. (If you noticed my use of the word “first” here, you might wonder if I’m implying there is already a second email. Yes, yes I am.)

For some context: Rodney sent that message to me on November 20 via my contact form. He is writing in response to my post, So My Ex Wants to Read My Memoir. Although my blog post wasn’t for him, I do take some responsibility for the parenthetical toward the end that directly addresses him. I should’ve known better. I DID know better. I just really wanted to name-call.

Despite egging him on, it remains my position that if Rodney were an emotionally whole person, he would’ve recognized from the full context of my post that contacting me was likely to be perceived by even the most objective reader as a dick move.

Anyway, I don’t want to spend too much time on this today. I think the quickest way to cut through the crap is to take a line-by-line approach, so I’m excerpting as I go here. His words appear on a gray background because I couldn’t make superscripts work to do footnotes.

OMG! Busted! LOL! Ok … enough about being glib. Yes, I am interested in the memoir because you’re a good writer. In ten years or so,  you have an uncanny knack for capturing rage in the details and showing my scumbaggery. I highly encourage you to continue writing. It appears you have a good audience, engaged, and it appears to be growing. That’s good!

The praise of my writing and self-debasement in these opening lines are classic Rodney. You may choose to interpret them as genuine, but I couldn’t if I wanted to. Not after the life I’ve lived. See, while Rodney’s emotional development is irreparably stunted, he’s not incapable of complex reasoning. He has learned during his forty-something years on this planet that if he wants to be likable, he must concede things he doesn’t believe. He’s also learned that he needs to be considered likable, at least some of the time, if he’s going to get what he wants. That I was already confident in my assessment of his character and in the quality of my writing before he made these comments is probably lost on him, but he didn’t write them for my sake. He wrote them for his.

(I bounced in when I learned of your post “Who You Gonna Trust,” which is chapter 4). And, yes, I have read all of the chapters. AND, I’d like to read the rest of the chapters too.

That is, in fact, not the title of Chapter 4. It’s actually Liar, Liar. That he can’t get this small, easily verifiable detail right indicates to me that there’s a glitch in his internal matrix. I’m not a shrink, but I can tell you from about five years of intense observation that Rodney gets the little stuff wrong when he’s struggling to maintain a solid grip on the lies he tells himself.

AND, no, I am not trying to intimidate you.

Bullshit. If he wanted to read the memoir, he could have easily done so without the dick waving. He could have used an alias and never said a word. He could have simply waited to read new chapters during the promotional periods I occasionally offer—periods when all Patreon content is open for public consumption. But he didn’t do that. Because Rodney wanted me to know it was him, and he wanted me to acknowledge his presence. That’s why when I initially refused to be baited and ignored him, he kept pushing buttons.

AND, yes, I knew by joining, Pateron’s system would out me. I’m ok with it … obviously. You’re a damn good writer, that’s all. AND, you’re writing a damn good story.

I know I can write. It was my vocation for many years before the brain tumor. I’m not sure whether Rodney wants to make himself look generous here or what. Maybe? Maybe he also wants to take a stab at minimizing Who You Gonna Believe by framing it a ‘story’ and suggesting it’s not entirely factual. If that’s the case, meh. Memoirs are not biographies, and the preface clearly explains what kinds of liberties I have taken and why I have taken them. Most readers, especially fans of the genre, know this without being told. My disclosure is just a formality.

On another note, I hope you and Dan are doing well.

LMAO.

You’re also welcome to use any or all of this message in your story or other content.

Just for the sake of clarity: Rodney wanted me to post this. I have weighed my choices in handling this matter and decided to post his nonsense despite his narcissism, not because of it.

This Still Isn’t About You, Rodney

This Still Isn’t About You, Rodney

I swear, when this is all over I’ll have all the experience required to teach a masterclass. I’m going to title it, This Still Isn’t About You Rodney: How to Include a Narcissist in Your Memoir. And people are going to sardonically use the name Rodney like they use the names Karen and Becky.

***

If you’ve had the chance to read the first few chapters of my memoir, you know quite a bit about my marriage to a guy I call Rodney. (For those of you who haven’t had a chance or aren’t interested, let me give you a little background: Rodney is a self-professed compulsive liar, an unrepentant cheater, and an egomaniacal, manipulative boob.)

Although Who You Gonna Believe isn’t ABOUT Rodney per se, he’s a prominent character in early chapters. That’s because I’m recounting pivotal moments in my life that give context to the larger story and support the theme of my work. You know, basic storytelling shit.

Unfortunately for me, Rodney—who is at best a creepy lurker and at worst a cyber-stalker—has a keen interest in my memoir. And not in that harmlessly curious way your ex might wonder what you’re up to these days, either.

Recall that back in November I wrote about Rodney signing up to be my patron. I wondered then whether he was just not bright enough to use an alias or whether he was using his real name and email address intending to intimidate me. The post was my way of signaling that I wasn’t going to quit telling my story. I shared a link to it on Twitter, like I do everything I write, and not long after received an email from Rodney via my website contact form.

The letter was a laughably, transparently desperate attempt to blow smoke up my ass and make himself look better. Rodney all but ASKED me to share it with the world, so publishing it was the last thing I intended to do. “Just ignore it,” I told myself. “He gets off on the attention.” But the thing about ignoring a narcissist is that it’s simultaneously the only hope you have of getting him to leave you alone AND the best way to ensure he will keep harassing you.

Not getting immediate gratification from seeing his letter on my blog, Rodney tried needling me again—by favoriting one of my tweets. When I saw his nauseating face in my notifications, I immediately blocked his Twitter account. Then I asked a few people I trusted to help me determine the best course of action. We all eventually agreed that refusing to acknowledge him would cause the most suffering and ridiculed him mercilessly behind his back. (Hey, I’m only human.) Then, feeling much better after a good vent and a belly laugh, I went back to not thinking about Rodney for a while.

That is, until Saturday night when he signed up for my Patreon a second fucking time. “But I thought you said in your other post that he deleted his account,” I hear you saying. He did! And then he signed up again after I published Chapter 9: Corpse Pose—again using his real name, again using his real emaI was in bed listening to the Sleep with Me podcast when I got the notification that Rodney’d shelled out another buck to secure his title as the World’s Biggest Slice of Dick Cheese. I rolled my eyes, scooted down the hall with my rollator to my get my laptop, and blocked him. Again.

Sunday morning I woke up, still slightly annoyed, and tweeted about this second Patreon sign-up. My sister-in-law texted me when she saw it.

“I’m stuck somewhere between ‘don’t give him airtime’ and ‘try to make money off of the drama,’” I confessed.

“Make that money, honey. Make it rain all day,” she said.

I have no idea if putting Rodney’s present awfulness on display will generate interest in WYGB, but I haven’t had a new patron sign up in a little bit, the appeal against Lincoln Financial Group is ongoing, and our SNAP benefits are fixing to be cut again, so I figure why not try? It’s not like I owe Rodney a single courtesy.

You guys might want to make some popcorn. I’m planning to post his letter soon-ish, and it’s going to be annotated.

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