How to start a memoir

woman posing wearing white dress shirt sitting on window
Photo by mentatdgt on

Given your many (or few) compelling life experiences, how do you decide what to write about?   

I’d recommend starting with a brainstorm. This is the act of producing ideas that you will develop during in the next step.  

Here are a few ways to brainstorm for a memoir:


  1. Put 20-30 minutes on a timer.*
  2. Grab a posterboard or lay a few pieces of paper out in a line.
  3. Draw a long line to sketch out a timeline of your life by year. (The line can be straight or a squiggle, to fit on the paper.)
  4. Note any significant events you remember by date.
  5. Since this is a brainstorm, try not to refer to anything but your memory. You don’t need to get the dates right. Just guess and estimate until you have a rough timeline.
  6. Observe the sorts of events you’ve captured, and see what themes you notice.
  7. Pick an event (or series of events with a similar theme).


  1. Put 20-30 minutes on a timer.*
  2. Draw a circle on a big piece of paper and segment it in 7-year intervals. 7-year cycles have an astrological significance. (Based on your age, you can also try segmenting by decade.)
  3. Write the major themes, life lessons, and people you remember from each period.
  4. Choose a life lesson you’re curious about exploring.


  1. Put 10-15 minutes on a timer.*
  2. At the top of the page, write “I want to write about…”
  3. Complete the sentence starter, following your inspiration. Try not to think too much in between words; let the words flow out of your pen.
  4. Take a break when you feel complete or the timer goes off.
  5. Reread what you’ve written and underline what feels most exciting.


  1. Put 10 minutes on a timer.*
  2. Using bullet points, list each idea that pops into your head.
  3. Write as quickly as you can. Try not to pause too long in between items. It’s okay to repeat
  4. Select one, or combine a few list items.

  *If you’re still going strong when the timer rings, you don’t have to stop. However, if the timer makes you feel nervous instead of expansive, skip this step.    

The key to brainstorming  

Letting the ideas flow without censorship is the key here.  Your ideas can be terrible; that’s okay. You may not get dates or events 100% accurate; that’s okay. Trust the process and your gut.  

This isn’t the time to limit yourself.  In this phase, you’re looking at the big picture of your life and thinking of as many ideas as you can. This is called divergent thinking.    

Your body’s intelligence is your best guide

Use curiosity and excitement as your compass.   Choose the method and ideas that feel the most energizing in your body.  

Another option to get started  

You might begin writing your story in my upcoming Writing Class: Story Journeying.  The technique here is related to free-writing. 

It also adds in the elements of grounding into your intuitive voice and calling in a writing guide to help you feel confident and supported in your writing process.
Whatever you choose, your passion will come through on the page when you’re excited about your memoir.

Good luck, and feel free to reach out with questions.

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