Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What is a memoir?

Welcome to new followers:
Laura, Vicky, Aporosa, Esther, Marg, Melissa, Rachel, Foma Hope,
Katinga, Karen, and Daneille,
and on Facebook: Jen, Rosemarie, Denny, Sue, Melissa, and Matt!
Be sure to invite your friends!

When people sign up for my memoir classes, I often hear, “A memoir class! Terrific! I love journaling!”

Yes, sometimes people confuse writing a memoir with journaling, or with writing autobiography, so let’s distinguish between them.

Your journal is private, but you write a memoir for others to read.

An autobiography documents your entire life, starting with your birth, but memoir focuses on a segment of your life—a specific theme or time period—which you explore in depth.

In other words, a person can write a memoir based on a theme: coaching high school tennis, for example, or working as a bush pilot in Alaska. My memoir, Grandma's Letters from Africa, covers a time period, my first four years in Africa.

Spiritual Memoirs 101’s theme is Deuteronomy 4:9, Always remember the things you’ve seen God do for you, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!

Pondering, examining, unraveling, musing, and reflecting are necessary ingredients in memoirs. In the writing process, you will examine what God was doing as you see it now, in retrospect. You’ll look for deeper lessons God had for you in the events of your life.

Looking back, what did you learn about yourself?

What patterns in your faith did you discover that you hadn’t noticed before?

What did you learn about God?

Do you now have a better understanding of God’s purpose for your life?

How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?

How did the experience strengthen your faith for future challenges?

In summary, your stories will capture how you remember God’s activities in your life and what you discovered about both God and yourself.

A memoir can be a few pages or book-length. I suggest you start by writing a collection of vignettes or short chapters.

In coming weeks, we’ll examine memoir from a number of perspectives, but for now, here’s …

This week’s assignment:

  • Start small: choose two or three occasions in which God acted on behalf of you or your family. For example, think back to turning points, answered prayer, decisions, or the happiest day of your life. For now, avoid traumatic or complicated stories; you’ll learn the craft of memoir more easily if you start with straightforward events.

  • Do you need a story idea? Look through your Bible or a devotional for words you underlined and notes you jotted in the margin. Such notations can help you remember a significant situation in your life.

  • While you write, ask yourself the above questions. Answers might not surface quickly but when they do, include them in your stories.

  • Write rough drafts, three to five pages for each story. Include pertinent Bible verses. (You’ll revise your rough drafts a lot—everyone does—so don’t worry about perfecting them yet.) These will be chapters in your finished memoir. You can write stand-alone pieces or a series of related stories.

  • Enjoy your writing!

Be sure to come back next week. I’m eager to tell you more about this grand undertaking—your memoir!

Your stories will help shape the spiritual lives of your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and anyone else who reads them (your “spiritual children”).

Your memoir could be the finest gift you’ll ever give, so pray for God’s help!


  1. Hi Linda,
    I sure wish I'd read this before I wrote my memoir about my spiritual journey -- you offer really good, sound advice here that will be helpful to many readers and writers!

  2. Michelle, thanks for joining us. I look forward to checking out your memoir.

    Advice? We're just barely getting started here! I'll be sharing lots more in coming months, every Wednesday.

    I hope you are having a wonderful day!


  3. This is really a different take. I love to journal (sometimes, you just can't help it), but the time commitment a memoir would take overwhelms me at this particular season. Maybe it would be a perfect in a different season of my life? Do you hear this from people?

  4. Hi, Rhonda, I encourage people to write a series of little vignettes, maybe 3 to 5 pages each, as time and inspiration permit, and compile them over time. There's no need to commit yourself to a completed memoir! I have designed this blog with busy people in mind because most of us are soooo busy! If you miss a week or a month, you can always come back and find past lessons in the archives (sidebar).

    Once a person starts thinking about what God has done for them in the past, ideas start coming throughout the day (and even night!) -- maybe while driving down the road, or folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, or writing blog posts. (Rhonda, you probably have already written hundreds of blog posts about what you've seen God do!)

    Maybe a good start for you would be to simply make a list of things you've seen God do for your family, and let your thoughts marinate for a while!

    Thanks for stopping by, Rhonda!


  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I'm glad you included this link in your 8/27/11 post. Now I understand the difference between memoir, journal and autobiography. This post is full of helpful tips that I can put to work immediately to help me focus my writing. Thank, Linda.


  7. Hi, De, I'm glad you found it and that it was helpful. Your comments are encouraging. :)