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What is a Memoir?

Have you ever had a strange, or funny, or tragic experience in your life? We almost all have, but have you ever thought about actually writing it down? That is what Memoir writers do. They think about times in their lives that stand out to them as particularly challenging or particularly hilarious or particularly unusual and capture those times in writing to share with the world. This is different than an autobiography. Autobiography usually covers your entire life up to the point of writing, while memoir focuses only on a part of your life. If you are writing a memoir, you will often choose an important or interesting part of your life to write about and ignore or briefly summarize the rest.


In short, a memoir is a story of a personal life experience or a period in your life that made you who you are today.

Why Write a Memoir?

When we write down our own stories to share with others it can be very freeing. It’s like getting something off your chest in a very concrete way. When other people read our stories, they often relate because of having similar experiences. Or the opposite can also be true, sometimes they have not experienced anything like what we are sharing, but because someone has written about it in a compelling way, they develop a new understanding and feel empathy. Either way, memoir writing can create community by bringing people together through sharing familiar and unfamiliar experiences.


To help get you started writing a memoir, read on to see some memoir idea prompts and topics. You will also find some tips for writing your own memoir and to links to other helpful resources. 

Memoir Prompts 

The beauty of a memoir is that it’s your story and it can be about whatever you want it to be about. You can talk about going to school for the first time, losing a friend, welcoming a new family member, experiencing bias or racism, discovering your identity, and on and on. There is no limit on what you can share with others, but you might need some inspiration to get started. 

Using prompts can really help!

Now You Try!

Read the following prompts. Pick one and freewrite your response. The process of freewriting (writing whatever comes to mind) to a prompt is a good way to get your story started.

The Most Interesting Thing that Ever Happened to You?

We all have some event or life experience that have stayed in our memory. We might remember them because they changed us or gave us a new understanding. Look at what you consider the most interesting or influential experience in your life. Why did this event stay with you? Did you learn something from it? Did it liberate you in some way or oppress you? Do you have regrets about it? How did this event define you? How did it impact your view of yourself or others?

What Makes You, You?

Think about yourself. What’s unique or special about you? If you were going to describe yourself to another person, what would you say? Think not just about how you look, but what makes you, you. When you try to define yourself, what comes to mind? Your family? Your friends? Your job? Your school? Where are you from? How have these people and things influenced who you are today? What, if anything, do they tell you about yourself?

Memoir Topics

Topics, like prompts, can help trigger ideas for what you want to write about. Click here to see the difference between the two. Brainstorming (jotting down any ideas that come to mind associated with your topic) based on a topic is a good way to get started and begin to get more specific about the theme of your memoir. 


Using topics can really help!

Now You Try!

Read the following topics. Pick at least 3 and brainstorm a list of at least 5 ideas that come up for each. Then, take your 5 ideas from one topic and flesh them out by turning them into sentences and then paragraphs. Then see where it takes you from there! Maybe you will be inspired to write more, or maybe you will try again with another topic. 

  • Your favorite place

  • Your best or worst day(s)

  • a memorable family member

  • Your most memorable teacher(s)

  • Someone you will always remember

  • Your proudest moment

  • Winter/summer/fall

  • Food

  • Love

  • Sports, music or books

  • Your childhood

  • Your community

  • A reoccurring dream

  • A supernatural experience

  • A spiritual experience

How to Tell Your Story

Example Memoirs
  1. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore: This is the story of two boys living in Baltimore with similar histories and an identical name.

  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right.                

  3. Aroma of Orange Pekoe by Jeff Tikari: The life and living; the entertaining and ways of Tea Planters who made a living in those remote plantations of north-east India in the 1950s                                                                                   

  4. Age Appropriate by Jen Doll: In this anecdotal essay about a summer vacation spent with family, Doll explores what it means to bring your teenage self along into adulthood.                                                                                                                                                      

  5. The Price of Black Ambition by Roxanne Gay: In “The Price of Black Ambition,” Roxane Gay speaks on the fact that children of color are often given an inflated sense of “ambition” at a young age. And, despite the exceptional amounts of work people of color put in to move forward in life, their efforts are regularly regarded as less than—their presence in “white” circles is considered a fluke or consequence of required diversity.                                                                             


If you’d like more examples, these two sites offer free books for download:

  1. Oboko: Free Memoir & Biography

  2. 10 Essential Essay-Length Memoirs You Can Read for Free

Other Helpful Examples

Are you ready to submit your memoir or a section of it? Upload  here!

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