How to Write a Memoir: 11 Tips

Eleven great tips for writing a memoir.

Writing a memoir is definitely a challenge.

That’s because there’s a lot more to it than simply telling your stories one after another, or putting together a rundown of the facts and important people and places in your life.

A memoir isn’t just a recitation of events.

At its best, it’s a glimpse into the inner you, at your thoughts and emotions, especially during a crucial time in your life.

Here are eleven essential tips to ensure that the process of writing your memoir will be as smooth and productive possible.

Tip #1: Think theme

The theme is your memoir’s through line, the central question, problem, issue, or situation that drives the story forward.

A well-crafted theme turns a collection of random stories into a compelling memoir.

For more on developing a theme, see “Memoir Ideas Are Everywhere.”

Tip #2: Fit stories to theme

Mentally sort through your stories, selecting only those that truly fit your theme.

Be willing to sacrifice stories. If a story doesn’t work with your theme, toss it aside. If it doesn’t help to build upon your central idea, it will damage your memoir.

For more on theme, see “Book Themes & Chocolate Cake Recipes.”

Tip #3: Emphasize feelings, not facts

A memoir should focus on your thoughts, feelings, and responses to what is happening to you and around you at a specific time.

There’s a temptation to pile on the facts when writing a memoir—to describe the people, places, and events it covers in minute detail. And sometimes you do need to go to great lengths to describe someone or something in your memoir.

But it is much more important to open up and let the readers into your mind and heart than describe things, people, and events to the nth degree.

Tip #4: Breathe life into your characters

Remember that while you know the people you’re writing about, your readers don’t.

So find the actions, words, characteristics, habits, or other things that will make your characters come to life on the page. Otherwise, they’ll bring your story to a grinding halt every time they appear.

For more, click over to “How To Write a Memoir” and scroll down to “Does a Memoir Have Characters?” 

Tip #5: Reveal, reveal, reveal!

Focus on your feelings and don’t hesitate to reveal them.

Don’t hold back; the whole point of a memoir is to let the readers see how you struggled with your emotions and changed as a result.

Tip #6: Follow your pen

Let your writing take you where it will, especially in the beginning.

Yes, it’s a good idea to plan things out and work from an outline, but if you find yourself going down a path you had not considered, see where it takes you. It might be a better approach.

If not, at least you’ve learned what doesn’t work.

Tip #7: Always use your “writer’s voice”

All writing has voice—a tone, an attitude, and a level of authenticity—that’s created by word selection, tempo, arrangement, and more.

The best voice for a memoir is always the authentic voice that emerges when all pretense is stripped away, when you let down your guard and allow the genuine, if imperfect, you shine through. This is known as the “writer’s voice.”

There are many other voices, including the “in-person voice,” “imagined voice,” “desired voice,” and “acquired voice,” but none of these will produce a work of art. For that, you must dig deep to find and use your authentic writer’s voice.

For more on this, see “How to Find Your Memoir Writer’s Voice.”

Tip #8: Avoid the “and then I did” approach

Another common mistake made by memoirists is attempting to stuff in as many stories as possible.

Your stories are undoubtedly great, and people love to hear them.

But when writing your memoir, you need to remember that all of your stories must serve your theme. Otherwise, they will turn your memoir into a litany of “first I did this, then I did that, then I did this, then I did that.” 

We all know people who do this verbally, reciting every single detail of their most recent vacation, favorite childhood memories, how to cook a certain dish, and so on. Isn’t it boring? Don’t you want to escape as soon as you possibly can?

This is how your readers will feel if you get wrapped up in the “and then I did” approach.

Tip #8: Keep reader expectations in mind

Always keep in mind that the top things readers want from a memoir are theme, emotional engagement, and entertainment.

Tip #10: Make sure it’s a memoir, not an autobiography

People often use the words “memoir” and “autobiography” interchangeably, but there is actually a sharp distinction between these two genres.

An autobiography is a recreation of your life that attempts to mention all of its important people, places, dates, and events, from the beginning to the present day.

A memoir, on the other hand, is look at the inner you, at your thoughts and emotions during a challenging, changing, or otherwise interesting portion of your life.

There is certainly some overlap between these two genres, but they are not same thing. Take some time to think about what you want to cover in your book, then decide whether it’s best presented as a memoir or an autobiography.

For more on this, see “Autobiography or Memoir?”

Tip #11: The winning tip

The best tip of all for writing a memoir is simply write, write, and write some more.

Don’t worry if you haven’t tracked down all the information you need, if you haven’t completely laid out your story, if you’re not sure you can do it, or if what you’re producing isn’t perfect.

Just keep writing. Most problems will eventually sort themselves out.

Many times, your theme will become sharper as you write, or a new and better theme will emerge. You may come to realize that a certain story doesn’t work as well as you thought it would and another one works better.

Think of the writing process as journeying down a long and winding pathway through your mind and memories.

Enjoy the journey! It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about yourself, your development, and life in general. If that’s all you do, you will have accomplished something wonderful.


Barry Fox, Nadine Taylor, ghostwriters, memoirs, business books, art books, history books, health books

Contact us! We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, professional ghostwriters and authors with a long list of satisfied clients and editors at major publishing houses.

For more information, call us at 818-917-5362 or use our Contact Form to send us a message.

We’d love to speak with you about your exciting memoir!


What Does a Ghostwriter Do?

what does a ghostwriter do, ghostwriting services,

Exactly what does a ghostwriter do?

In brief, the ghostwriter is an expert at writing books for other people.

Sometimes, the ghostwriter begins with nothing more than a concept provided by the client, and handles all of the research and writing, rewriting, and editing.

In other cases, the ghostwriter works closely with the client, bouncing ideas back and forth, using some of the material the client wrote and creating the rest himself. Every situation is different.

In addition to creating the manuscript, clients have requested that we help them decide what to do with their books, write their book proposals, facilitate self-publication, oversee the printing process, handle the marketing and distribution, and more.

Let’s take a look at the various tasks that ghostwriters may be asked to handle, above and beyond writing the manuscript.

1. Helping you answer the “why”

This may sound odd, but a lot of people are not sure what to do with the books they are eager to write.

The process of deciding what should be done with the completed book begins with a simple question: Why are you writing your book? For example, are you hoping to:

  • make lots of money?
  • introduce a new idea?
  • share your life experiences?
  • launch or enhance a business?
  • address a pressing political/social/economic/religious situation?

Answering the “why” helps determine how the book should be written, published and priced, marketed, and so on.

You may think you know why you are writing your book, But the “why” can evolve, and it does so in a surprising number of cases. As the “why” changes, so does the way in which the book is written, published and promoted.

Your ghostwriter can help you establish the “why” so that the finished product helps you achieve your goals.

2. Editing and proofreading your manuscript

Every manuscript must be edited and proofread, but not by the person who wrote it. Instead, it should be edited by an independent editor, then checked by a separate proofreader.

You can locate these professionals on your own, or your ghostwriter may offer some recommendations or send your manuscript to an editor and proofreader as part of the service provided.

3. Writing the book proposal

Next on the list is creating the document necessary to approach literary agents and publishers: the proposal.

Essentially, the proposal is a combination blueprint of the book-to-be, plus an idea of how much money the publisher stands to make.

Your agent will show the proposal to appropriate publishers in the hopes that one or more will want to purchase and publish your book.

The key elements of this document are:

  • Title Page
  • Proposal Table of Contents 
  • Overview – also known as the Synopsis or Introduction
  • Author – also known as About the Author, Author’s Qualifications, or Biography
  • Competition – also known as Competing Books or Competitive Analysis
  • Marketing – also known as Marketing & Promotion
  • Book Table of Contents
  • Chapter Outlines – also known as Chapter Summaries
  • Sample Chapters

Various agents have different names for and preferred ways of arranging the parts of a book proposal, but the basics are the same.

To learn more, watch Barry’s YouTube presentation on “Writing a Great Non-Fiction Book Proposal.”

4. Identifying literary agents

You’ll need an agent if you want your book to be brought to market by a standard publisher.

A handful of these traditional publishers are willing to review book ideas sent directly to them. But most require that you approach them through an agent.

We help our clients who are interested in standard publication secure agents.

That’s not to say that we will get an agent for you. Instead, we help you create a short-list of appropriate agents for you to approach, and we help create the materials necessary to query prospective agents.

5. Facilitating self-publication

So far, we’ve described the regular tasks that most ghosts are familiar with. With the types of assistance that follows, we’re venturing outside the traditional realm of book ghostwriting.

With self-publication, in essence you have three options:

  • Do it all yourself—If you’re handy with computers and have an eye for design, you can use online tools to design your book cover and interior layout by yourself. You can work directly with a printer, manage your own PR campaign, and do everything else necessary to turn a manuscript into a finished book that’s available for sale and brought to the public’s attention.
  • Work with various self-publishing professionals—You can hire individual experts to handle the various elements of self-publishing for you. These include a cover designer, interior designer, social media company for PR, and so on.
  • Hire a self-publishing company—You can hire a self-publishing firm, such as Lulu or Infinity Publishing, to do all of the above. This is the simplest approach. It is also typically more expensive than handling it yourself, and you have less control over the process. But you are able to transfer all of the responsibility—and the burden—to the self-publisher.

6. Arranging for cover design and interior design

Cover design involves creating the combination of images and words that will appear on the front, back, and spine of your book.

Interior design, on the other hand, involves selecting the font, placement of the pictures and other graphic elements, and otherwise creating the “layout and look” of everything between the front and back covers.

Standard publishers routinely handle these designs for their authors, and many self-publishing firms offer these design services as part of a package or as à la carte offerings.

Still, clients have asked us to help them create their inside and outside designs.

While we are not designers, we can educate you about these matters and help you decide whether you need designs created from scratch, or if it makes more sense to go with a premade designs.

7. Getting your book printed

Having your book printed can be a simple matter. Or it may require research and a bit of effort, depending on how you approach it.

The simplest approach is to hire an all-in-one self-publishing company, such as AuthorHouse. These firms offer complete, turn-key packages that include the printing.

You can also work directly with a printer, such as IngramSpark or 48HourBooks. This can be less expensive, as you won’t be paying the middleman’s commission.

However, you’ll have to research printers to find the ones whose services best match your needs. You may also have to make your book files “printer-ready” or pay to have someone do so for you.

A third option is not to print your book at all. Instead, you make it available in print-on-demand (POD) format on Amazon or other online retailers. Copies will be printed as they are ordered.

8. Handling marketing and public relations

It’s the very rare person who is expert in both book ghostwriting and marketing/PR.

In almost every case, you’ll be better off hiring one person to write your book, and another person or firm to bring it to the public’s attention.

Having said that, we have seen marketing/PR campaigns in action, for our own books as well as those of our clients, and can give you some general advice.

What does a ghostwriter do? A lot!

In days past, ghostwriters mostly worked with standard publishers.

Whether hired by the publisher, agent, or author, the ghost wrote the manuscript, and the publisher handled editing, cover design, distribution, and the other aspects of publication.

Today, many book authors prefer to self-publish, and they ask their ghostwriters to help them do so.

This has encouraged many ghosts to learn all about design, printing, and other aspects of publication, so that they may offer a full slate of publishing services.

Which services do we offer?

All of the above, except marketing and publicity. Our goal is to help you go from idea to published book, no matter which publishing options you choose.


Contact us! We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, professional ghostwriters and authors with a long list of satisfied clients and editors at major publishing houses.

You can learn about our ghostwriting work and credentials on our Home Page.

For more information, call us at 818-917-5362 or use the contact form below to send us a message. We’d love to talk to you about your exciting book project!

The Best Ghostwriting Process

Many people ask me about the ghostwriting process. Specifically, they want to know the “best” process for ghostwriting a book; the approach that will guarantee great results.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the “#1 Best Process” for ghosting a book. Individual ghostwriters have their preferences, authors (aka clients) have their own needs, and the only thing we know for sure is that the best ghostwriting process is the one that works for a particular ghost-author combination. (For more on ghostwriters, click here.)

That said, we can break the book ghostwriting process down into five major parts:

  • Presentation – The author’s initial ideas and/or stories are presented to the ghostwriter. This generally happens during one-on-one conversations between the ghost and author, whether in person or on the phone, via Skype, Zoom, etc.
  • Development – Even before the presentation stage has been completed, the ghostwriter begins to develop the ideas and information by asking questions to jog the author’s memory, fill in gaps, open new areas for exploration, and so on. Development could be an open-ended search for whatever seems relevant or a narrowly focused deep dive into a specific area or two. Depending on the book’s topic, the ghost may acquire more information by reading books or articles about the subject; chatting with the author’s colleagues, family members, and friends; interviewing experts in the field; touring the author’s factory, childhood neighborhood, or other relevant places; or hiring a researcher to find more information.
  • Organization – As ideas, stories, and other information are presented and developed, the ghostwriter and author explore ideas for organizing it all. They eventually select a theme, a central “argument” that holds the manuscript together, as well as a structure for the book. Sometimes the theme and structure are obvious from the start. Other times, a few possibilities need to be explored before discovering the strongest combination.
  • Creation – The ghostwriter writes the book. Some ghostwriters (including me) like to send rough drafts of chapters to the author as they are written to get immediate feedback, then make any necessary adjustments. Others prefer to write large chunks of the book before asking the author to read and comment on it.
  • Correction – Once the manuscript has been completed, it is sent to a proofreader for final corrections.

The ghostwriting process need not follow this approach exactly as I’ve outlined it.

For example, some ghosts prefer to present and develop only enough information to get an overall idea of the book, then create the book chapter by chapter, going back for more material via the presentation and development stages with each new chapter. (I prefer to present and develop as much material as possible at the beginning.) And during the creation stage, the ghostwriter may feel the need to develop more information or redo the book’s organization.

As I stated at the beginning, the “best ghostwriting process” is the one that works for you and your ghostwriter. But whichever way you and your ghostwriter decide to work, it’s always helpful if you come to the process with a clear idea of who you are writing for, and why. Give that a lot of thought before beginning writing, whether on your own or with your ghostwriter. Knowing where you intend to go makes it a lot easier to get there.

You’d Like Help Writing Your Book…

Barry Fox, Nadine Taylor, ghostwriters, memoirs, business books, art books, history books, health books

Give us a call! We’re Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, professional ghostwriters and authors with a long list of satisfied clients and editors at major publishing houses.

If you’d like to get started with a ghostwriter, call us at 818-917-5362 or use the form below to send us a message.

We’d love to talk to you!

Book Editors, Ghostwriters, and Coaches