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6 Powerful Memoir Writing Tips from a Book Coach ft. Ally Berthiaume

Looking for some memoir writing tips? We’ve got you covered in today’s episode. Press play to listen while you read along with my favorite takeaways, or listen on Apple or Spotify if you prefer. Be sure to click subscribe!

Let’s Talk Writing a Memoir

When you feel called to write a memoir, you’re setting out on a journey of self-discovery that’s likely to surprise you just as much as your reader. But creating a compelling narrative from your lived experiences can feel daunting, especially when you think about people who lived those experiences with you reading the book.

Where do you start? How do you structure it? What should you include (or leave out)? Where are all the memoir writing tips when you need them?

To help light the way, I sat down with award-winning author, book coach and ghostwriter Ally Berthiaume. With an MFA in creative writing and a background in psychology, Ally brings a unique perspective to the art of memoir. You can connect with Ally at her website, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube.

Oh and you can also catch my conversation — Boost Your Author Confidence: Mindset Hacks from 4 Book Coaches — on Ally’s show: Write Place, Write Time right here.

But First: What is Memoir?

Memoir is a literary genre that dives into a person’s life story, focusing on specific experiences, events, or periods that have shaped their identity and worldview. Unlike an autobiography, which generally covers the author’s entire life with a broad scope, a memoir is more selective, emphasizing emotional truth and personal insight over a comprehensive life account.

Memoirs serve a dual purpose: they offer the writer a chance to reflect and analyze their own life, and they provide readers with intimate insights into experiences that may be vastly different or remarkably similar to their own.

This genre is not just about factual accuracy; it’s about conveying the essence of real-life experiences and the emotional journey that accompanies them. That’s one of the reasons that writing memoir can feel so daunting.

Writing Memoir for Growth

In writing a memoir, authors choose moments that are pivotal to their personal growth or that represent crucial turning points. These stories are often interwoven with personal revelations and significant life lessons, making them compelling not only for their narrative but also for their deeper resonances with universal themes like love, loss, triumph, and failure.

Memoirs can be therapeutic for both the writer and the reader. For the writer, the process of writing a memoir can be a powerful tool for self-discovery and healing. For readers, memoirs can be eye-opening, providing new perspectives, or they can be affirming, reflecting their own experiences back to them in meaningful ways.

By sharing these stories, memoirists invite readers into their world, offering a glimpse of their joys, struggles, and realities. In doing so, they build connections and foster empathy, reminding us of our shared humanity despite our diverse life paths.

Finding Your Memoir’s Bones

The key to a compelling memoir is crafting your jumble of memories into a cohesive narrative arc. Once you “drain the well” and see all the elements you have to work with, Ally advises arranging them into a satisfying story structure.

Consider asking yourself:

  • Do you want to tell your story linearly from beginning to end?
  • Would it be more powerful to start at a pivotal moment and then go back in time?
  • What are the key plot points, conflicts and themes that will hook readers?

Memory is a slippery thing. As you dive into your past to write your memoir, you may find yourself struggling to recall precise details and dialogues. Ally reassures that memoir is not about portraying a journalistic, 100% factual retelling. The power is in conveying the “essence of truth.”

“It’s being careful and intentional with the details – what can we verify, what can we not, what can we assume is as accurate to the truth as we can get it to be from an essence, like the essence of truth versus like capital T truth.”

Ally Berthiaume

Writing a memoir is a powerful opportunity to make sense of your life journey. As you write, Ally encourages reflecting on the lessons and messages you’ve gleaned along the way. What do you want readers to take away from your story?

There may be periods of resistance and times when the words just won’t flow. Be gentle with yourself. And read on for 6 memoir writing tips.

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6 Memoir Writing Tips

  1. Drain the Well: Before you start structuring your memoir, take time to pour out all your memories, emotions, themes, and thoughts. This general idea involves capturing everything that comes to mind about the experiences you want to share, no matter how fragmented. Ally recommends using post-it notes for this process, allowing you to visually organize and later rearrange these snippets to better construct your narrative.
  2. Narrative Structure: Once you have all your elements, the next step is to arrange these memories like puzzle pieces. Decide on the narrative structure—whether you want your memoir to flow chronologically or begin with a pivotal moment and then flash back to earlier times. This structuring process is crucial in creating a compelling path through your life’s story.
  3. Selective Detailing: Be deliberate about which details and memories to include in your memoir. It’s important to verify facts where possible, but also focus on capturing the essence of your experiences. This involves balancing factual accuracy with the emotional truth of events that may not be remembered perfectly but are emotionally significant.
  4. Creative Dramatization: Employ creative writing techniques to dramatize key scenes and moments. This could mean vividly describing scenes from your childhood or crucial events from your perspective at different ages, helping to immerse readers in your experiences as though they were there.
  5. Reflective Insight: Use the memoir writing process as a reflective journey. Think about the overarching messages and life lessons you want to share. This tip encourages introspection and personal growth, allowing you to explore how your experiences have shaped you and what you hope others will take away from your story.
  6. Embrace Fallibility: Acknowledge the fallibility of memory when writing your memoir. While striving for accuracy, recognize that personal recollections may vary in reliability. Focus on being as truthful as possible, but remember that the goal is to tell an engaging and meaningful story that captures the spirit of your experiences.

These were my favorite memoir writing tips from the conversation. But at the end of the day, writing a memoir is meant to be therapeutic for both you, the author, and the reader.

Ally shared how memoir writing serves as a therapeutic tool, not only for the writer but also for readers. By exploring one’s past through writing, one can find healing and understanding. It’s about making peace with your story and, in the process, helping others do the same.

The Memoir’s Place in the World

We wrapped up our discussion acknowledging the significant impact memoirs can have on readers and society. By sharing our stories, we contribute to a greater understanding and empathy among people, highlighting our shared human experience.

Memoir writing is more than just documenting life events—it’s about turning personal history into universal lessons that resonate with others. It’s a journey of discovery, healing, and ultimately, connection.

If you’ve been thinking about writing your memoir, remember that your unique story is invaluable, and it’s never too late to start. Have these memoir writing tips been helpful? Let us know!


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My Top 3 Takeaways for this Conversation

We had such a good discussion and got so many memoir writing tips to chew on, but the 3 things I loved most about my chat with Ally were:

  1. The Power of Perseverance in Achieving Dreams: Ally shared her lifelong journey towards becoming a writer, despite numerous setbacks and societal expectations that suggested otherwise. Her story resonated with me, highlighting the importance of pursuing one’s passion relentlessly, no matter the obstacles. This is a crucial lesson for anyone who feels discouraged or sidetracked in their creative endeavors.
  2. The Role of Authenticity in Writing and Life: Ally’s approach to using her background in psychology to help authors tell their stories more authentically was particularly enlightening. It’s a reminder that our unique experiences and truths are what make our voices powerful and necessary. For anyone looking to write or create, embracing your true self can be your greatest asset.
  3. The Impact of Writing on Personal Growth: Ally discussed how writing her memoir was not only a professional achievement but also a personal triumph. The process allowed her to honor her younger self and fulfill a dream that had taken thirty years to realize. It underscores the idea that writing can be a transformative tool for healing and personal development, which is something I deeply believe in.

What were your favorite memoir writing tips? Let us know in the comments.

Let’s change some lives,

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Holly

PS — 🩵 When it feels right, here are 3 ways I can help you turn the page:

  1. The Book Map. Imagine having a GPS for your book-writing journey, guiding you from “I think I have an idea!” all the way to “OMG, I did it! I wrote a book!” That’s what the Book Map can do for you. It’s a supercharged roadmap for your writing journey. It’s not just about outlining chapters; it’s about diving deep into what you want to say and the best way to say it, ensuring every word pulls its weight. You’re not just writing a book; you’re crafting a masterpiece that feels as if it almost writes itself. Ready to make your book dream a reality? Let’s Book Map it!
  2. One-to-One Book Coaching. I have a vision of changing the world one book at a time, by teaching world-changers to create a book in a gentler, more effective way. A way that takes both you and your reader on a profound journey. I see a future where we build trust in our words, worlds, and work with our books, and where the world becomes a better place because of the books we write. My commitment is to bring to life books—fiction and nonfiction—founded on integrity. I’ll bring the map, and you’ll take us on the journey. If you’re ready to change the world with your book, your quest awaits. Apply for a free discovery call here. It takes 3 minutes.
  3. Listen to the Podcast. The Book Coach Chronicles: A podcast for writers of books, people who want to be writers of books, and y’all in the back who’ve been thinking about it but don’t yet consider yourself a writer. Listen on AppleSpotify, or Everywhere Else.

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Holly Ostrout is a book coach with a vision of changing the world one book at a time, by teaching big-idea entrepreneurs, coaches, speakers, and authors to create a book in a gentler, more effective way. A way that takes both you and your reader on a profound journey.
Holly Ostrout

Hi I’m Holly. If you’re going to change the world with your book, fiction or nonfiction, I can help you do it.

I'm a book coach for high-achieving, creative coaches, consultants, service providers, speakers, and authors who want to build a sustainable business around their book—whether that’s fiction or nonfiction.

I help you share your wisdom, ideas, and gifts by writing & publishing a life-changing book that helps you streamline your business, bring in more money, and change more lives.

I believe books are the most important human invention. And yours can change the world.

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Joyful, Easy Writing Can Be Yours​

Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Tracker & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.

Mockup of The Writing Ritual Creator from Holly Ostrout

Joyful, Easy Writing Can Be Yours

Writing Ritual Tracker from Books & Alchemy

Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Tracker & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.

Mockup of The Writing Ritual Creator from Holly Ostrout
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If You Want to Change the World with Your Book, You've Got to Write It.

Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Creator & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.