How to Write a Memoir: A Guide to Writing a Bestselling Memoir and Defining Your Legacy

Have you ever had a moment where you shared an experience from your life, only to have someone stare back in awe and exclaim, “You should write a book!”?

Well, writing a book is what we do when we want to create an entire world or experience—from sci-fi adventures, historical dramas, or even a package of lessons that we’ve learned on a given topic.

But writing a memoir? That’s when things begin to get quite personal. Memoir writing requires you to deep dive into your own life, meditate on profound experiences, and arrange their lessons in a woven narrative. Far different than writing an autobiography—it’s about retrieving moments that shaped you and inspired you, with unapologetic honesty and introspection, focusing on the emotional truth of your experiences.

And if your memoir goes on to become a bestseller, you have the chance to share something truly immense with the world and set your legacy in stone. If that’s something that appeals to you, then Made for Success can help!

Your Guide to Writing a Memoir

A man sitting at a desk in a cozy, well-lit room, surrounded by bookshelves filled with books. He has a contemplative expression, with a pen in his hand and an open notebook in front of him. The room has warm colors, with a large window showing a peaceful garden outside. The man is casually dressed in a sweater and glasses, looking thoughtful as he prepares to write his memoir. On the desk, there are scattered papers, a cup of coffee, and a photo frame showing a happy moment from his past.

A great memoir not only tells your story but also ensnares the spirit of your readers. Doing this effectively enhances the possibility of your memoir becoming a bestseller. But before mastering the art of writing one, let’s solidify our definition of what a memoir is.

To get started, consider exploring various memoir ideas, such as using writing prompts and resources to spark memories and emotions.

What is a Memoir? Understanding Your Life Story

Think of a memoir as a slice of your life pie, focusing on the most flavorful, impactful pieces. Unlike an autobiography, which chronicles your entire life from start to finish, a memoir zeroes in on pivotal moments that shaped you and brought about lasting change, creating a compelling life story.

Think less about listing events and more about exploring the emotions, thoughts, and changes those events brought about.

Writing a memoir means vulnerability and introspection. By sharing your unique experiences and insights, you not only tell your story but also let others who have faced similar challenges or triumphs connect with you on a deeper level.

Who Reads Memoirs? Insights for Memoir Writers

Memoirs are their own special breed of literature. But who exactly reads them? Usually, fans of memoirs are those who are seeking inspiration, validation, and a sense of connection. The prospect of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes allows them to gain clarity in their own journey. Getting an understanding of a reader’s motivation to purchase your book is key to writing a bestseller.

Now, we all understand the appeal of memoirs by celebrities—like Bill Gates, Prince Harry, or Britney Spears. But there’s also a huge audience out there hungry for the stories of everyday people. These readers care more about rawness and authenticity than the glamor of the famous. Aspiring writers can find inspiration and guidance by exploring both book-length and essay-length memoir examples.

Crafting Your Memoir – The Success Memoir Formula

the success formula for writing a memoir

Our formula for writing a powerful memoir begins with pinpointing the central theme or message you want audiences to take away. Acting as a backbone, it’s a framework for you to think about the unique stories you have to tell.

Reflecting on these experiences and identifying a common thread that ties them together is the genesis point for an inspiring memoir.

As you do this, put special emphasis on stories filled with authenticity and vulnerability. Readers want to hear honesty and raw moments, so don’t shy away from sharing your struggles and triumphs in a genuine manner.

By being open and providing an honest account, you create a real emotional connection with the reader, allowing your story to make an impact.

How to Structure Your Memoir

As we mentioned, a memoir is not an autobiography. But while you don’t need to write in chronological order, you may choose this if it suits your narrative style.

Here are a few standard options to consider when choosing a structure for your memoir:

  1. Chronological: Puts things on a linear timeline, starting from a specific point in your past and progressing to the present.

  2. Thematic: More freeform than chronologic, thematic structures revolve around specific themes or events, grouping similar experiences together regardless of when they occurred.

  3. Hybrid: Combining elements of both chronological and thematic structures can provide flexibility and maintain reader engagement.

A fiction writer often incorporates fiction writing techniques into their memoir, emphasizing a strong opening, detailed middle, and a well-ended finish to make the memoir more interesting for readers.

Any of these structures give you the ability to create a moving memoir. But as we’ll discuss next, there are more tricks to creating a compelling narrative and a personal style.

How to Create a Compelling Story and Narrative Arc

woman who is the center of a narrative arc

At Made for Success, we have seen the three-act structure or the Hero’s Journey framework be hugely useful to start writing and organize a memoir into clear sections—beginning, middle, and end.

This ensures that your story flows smoothly and keeps readers engaged. Each act should build upon the previous one, leading to a climax and a satisfying resolution.

For detailed guidance on structuring your memoir, refer to resources like the MasterClass article on memoir structure.

Writing Styles

It’s best that you style your memoir in a way that feels natural to you. Here’s a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Persuasive: Convinces the reader of a particular viewpoint or idea.

  • Step-by-Step: Emphasizes a how-to guide based on personal experiences.

  • Descriptive: Provides vivid descriptions and literary devices that jump off of the page.

  • Narrative: Tells a story using a traditional storytelling approach.

  • Compare and Contrast: Explores similarities and differences between experiences or ideas.

  • Problem-Solution: Identifies a problem and proposes a solution based on personal insights.

Each style has its own strengths and can be suited to different parts of your memoir. For more examples and in-depth explanations, check out Louisa Deasey’s article on memoir styles.

By understanding these styles and structures, you can better organize your memoir and create a narrative that resonates with readers. A memoir typically covers one aspect of a writer’s life or a continuous theme through memories, distinguishing it from an autobiography, which is a chronological account of the writer’s life.

What Makes a Memoir Bestselling?

Memoirs that sell the best are those that captivate the reader. Plain and simple.

So how do you do that? Show, don’t just tell—let readers feel like they are experiencing the moments with you. Telling your own true story comes with unique possibilities and challenges, but employing elements of fiction can make it more powerful and enjoyable for readers.

Additionally, consider starting with a compelling hook that grabs attention from the first page. Make sure your narrative voice is authentic and consistent, as this helps build a strong connection with your readers.

Create Your Own Legacy Through Your Own Experiences

defining your legacy

To leave a lasting impact with your own memoir, consider focusing on themes that have some broad relatability. These could be overcoming adversity, the search for identity, or the power of love and family.

Your memoir should not only tell your story but give insights and inspiration that readers can apply to their own lives. In this way, a memoir represents a meaningful and enduring legacy.

Practical Tips for Writing and Publishing

1. Writing Discipline

As with all writing, consistency is key when writing a memoir.

Set a regular writing schedule that fits into your lifestyle and stick to it.

Whether it’s an hour every morning or several hours on weekends, you may consider establishing a time block routine that works for you.

2. Revising and Editing

A draft is exactly that—just the beginning.

After completing your initial draft, take a break before revisiting your manuscript with fresh eyes. Be prepared to write multiple drafts as you refine your story and improve its structure, clarity, and emotional impact.

Having a professional editor to provide objective feedback and help polish your work to a professional standard is a powerful tool at this stage.

3. Publishing Options

You have the option of choosing between traditional publishing, self-publishing or hybrid publishing.

Traditional publishing lets you submit your manuscript to would-be publishers who handle the editing, production, and distribution of your book. This route can provide wider distribution and marketing support but can be competitive and time-consuming.

Self-publishing, conversely, gives you full control over the publishing process, allowing you to publish your memoir quickly. However, it also requires you to handle all aspects of production, marketing, and distribution.

At Made for Success, we offer hybrid publishing services, which can be a great fit for many aspiring memoir authors. For those seeking specialized programs and training, Self-Publishing School offers comprehensive courses that empower and equip writers to successfully publish their memoirs.

Marketing Your Memoir

marketing your memoir

Without a doubt, marketing will be critical for reaching your audience and becoming a bestseller. It helps greatly to have an online presence through social media, a personal blog, a podcast show or even a website dedicated to your book. Memoir writers emphasize the importance of emotional truth and character development in memoir writing.

Engage with your potential readers by sharing insights, more personal content, and updates on your writing journey. From email newsletters, book signings, and speaking engagements, there are a multitude of methods to connect with your target audience.

Drafting a Memorable Memoir

Authenticity, a relatable story, and a powerful marketing strategy are among the most essential attributes of all bestselling memoirs. By focusing on your own experiences, with some strong writing direction, I have high confidence that you can tap into your life’s journey and extract its most powerful lessons!

Are you ready to write your memoir? Embrace the process, be honest and authentic, and share your unique story with the world! And if you’re looking for a hand getting started, talk to our writing and publishing experts here at Made for Success.

About the Author

Bryan Heathman is the CEO of Made for Success, who works with authors on writing, publishing and marketing their books including the late Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins and hundreds more bestselling authors. Bryan is the author of Conversion Marketing and #1 Best Seller: Book Marketing Reinvented.  Bryan’s corporate experience includes working for three Fortune 10 companies. While not writing and publishing, Bryan enjoys tennis and jazz performance.