My Journey into Memoir

For years, like many others, I have felt I have had a book inside me. I have enjoyed writing since I was about ten years old when I wrote plays for my maternal grandmother, Nan and all her little Italian lady friends. I can still see them gathered in the living room sipping coffee and chattering on in Italian. I never understood a word but I can still feel their fascination and loving attention as they hushed each other when I stood at the archway to announce the play would begin.

As I grew older and began facing life with all its complications, I found myself journaling my way through the heartaches of relationship failures, the searing pain of divorce, the exhaustion of being a single-parent, the terror of loving and living with an alcoholic son, the heart wrenching losses of my maternal grandmother, Nan, my best friend, Judy and the recent death of my beloved father as well as my own diagnosis of cancer. Journaling became my pathway to healing, capturing my moments of need, longing, passion, creativity, my life.

We all have our own stories to tell and we are the only ones who can tell them. But not everyone feels a need to write a memoir, which by the way is not an autobiography. A memoir is a slice of your life told as a story.

About three years ago, I decided I wanted to and here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. If I’m going to write a memoir, it has to read like a novel.
  2. The rules of fiction apply to memoir writing: an opening hook, plot, structure, character development, narrative arc, theme, conflict, suspense, resolution, and a distinct voice.
  3. Journaling is not a memoir. A journal is a tool to express and explore feelings and reactions. A memoir captures a story with a message.
  4. The memoir market is very difficult to break into. If you are not a celebrity, you need to become known through a strong author platform and a strong social media presence.
  5. A memoir should include reflection and insight into your story. It should not be written to disparage another or to work out your feelings (that can be accomplished through journaling) A memoirist needs to be far enough removed from the situation to be able to see it as a story.
  6. Writing memoir involves resurrecting memories, discerning the truth, facing the pain, facing down your inner critic.
  7. Writing memoir takes courage, focus, drive, persistence and honesty. I have been writing my stories for the past three years and am just beginning to shape all the vignettes into a story.

As a result of the above, I have learned to:

1. Study the art and craft of memoir through the Masters:

Take courses: A Google search of memoir writing will direct you to many sites. Here are a few I recommend:

National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) with Linda Joy Myers

The Heart and Craft of Life writing with Sharon Lippincott

Memoir Writers’ Network with Jerry Waxler

Women’s Memoirs with Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Men with Pens

The Memoir Project with Marion Roach Smith

Rachelle Gardner

Jennifer Lauck 

Shirley  Hershey Showalter 

The Christian Writer’s Guild Writing Essentials Course

Writer’s Digest website and courses

Attend conferences and workshops: There are many. Here are the ones I have attended:

The Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive

The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference 

The International Women’s Writers Guild (IWWG)

The Story Circle Network

The Firehearts’ Writer’s Institute with Heather Summerhayes Cariou

The Christian Writer’s Guild Writing for the Soul Annual Conference

2. Start a blog to develop an author platform. I started with a free blog and moved to a site that is self-hosted by Blue Host. I have also taken Dan Blank’s Build Your Author Platform Course and ongoing Mastermind forum.

3. Join a community of Memoir Writers:


She Writes 


4. Submit your writing to writing contests: There are many. Here a few I have submitted to:

Annual Writer’s Digest Competition

Story Circle Network Competition

Creative Nonfiction 

5. Join Lifewriters’ Forums:

Writer’s Digest Forum

Yahoo Lifewriters’ Forum moderated by Jerry Waxler and Sharon Lippincott

6. Study social media options and join the ones that suit you. I belong to Facebook, Twitter, Linked In,Google+ and Goodread. I’m intrigued by Pinterest

7. Develop a regular writing schedule, preferably daily

Find ways to get organized:

I use Evernote to organize my thoughts.

8. Develop a “deep-in-my-core” belief  in my own story

For me, that has happened through my writing. I have learned to listen to my muse and allow my story to unfold.

9. Define my readers and write to them. Writing with the reader in mind, even if it is just one person, can help you keep a focus. Visualize the reader.

10. My favorite quote that says it all is from Chris Baty (founder of National Novel Writing Month) in his remarks from the closing session of the recent Writer’s Digest conference:

“Have faith that someone out there has waited their whole life to read your book then give that reader the best you have to offer.”

My work-in-progress memoir is “Mazes and Miracles: One Woman’s Story of the Power of Hope through Faith.”



Kathy Pooler

Kathy Pooler

Kathy Pooler blogs at Memoir Writer’s Journey: Sharing Hope One Story at a Time and can be found on Twitter @kathypooler, on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Goodreads.

“I’d love to hear from you and hope you’ll join me at Memoir Writer’s Journey which I like to think of as a big kitchen table where people can gather to talk about writing and life.”

Kathy Pooler on YouTube: Welcome to Memoir Writer’s Journey


Please join the discussion below

25 thoughts on “My Journey into Memoir

  1. Welcome, Kathy, it’s such a pleasure to have you on Creative Flux. The comprehensive information you provide is bound to be invaluable to all writers, not just those writing Memoirs.

    Your point of developing a “deep-in-my-core” belief in your story is excellent advice, and I love how you’ve captured the entire process of memoir writing through sharing your unique beginnings to your journey. Blessings and thank you. And so wonderful to ‘meet’ you in your lovely video *smiles*

  2. Terre, I appreciate this opportunity to share my memoir writing journey on Creative Flux. I have learned so much along the way from so many and am happy to share it with others! Blessings and thank you,too!

  3. Kathy, thanks so much for this treasure chest of ideas for the memoir writer. It is really helpful to have them organized and on the page to refer back to.
    I appreciate you sharing your journey!!

  4. Kathy, I’ve seen both the sweet side and the social side of your life as a writer (thanks to dinners at wdc12 and as a follower of yours on Twitter and Facebook). This post revealed your working side. Wow. Yours has been a thoughtful, determined approach to becoming a professional writer. Your post is inspirational, as well as instructive. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who thinks of you as I weigh whether the “deep-in-my-core” belief in my story is as strong as it needs to be. Thanks.

  5. Aww,thanks Karl for your kind and generous comments. Yes, this writerly life certainly does have many sides which I feel very fortunate to have shared with you and many others. As far as the work side, well, ya’ gotta’ really love what you’re doing to keep doing it in the long haul. I am so happy to be sharing this journey with so many amazing people such as yourself! Thanks so much for stopping by. That saying,”it takes a village” really is true for writers. So glad you’re part of my village 🙂

  6. What a lovely synthesis of what you need to do as a memoirist. I’m in the midst of writing my grandmother’s story, and of course all the around the kitchen table anecdotes come flooding back in. Thanks for all the tips.

    • Thanks,Diana! What a lovely tribute to your grandmother. You will be keeping her spirit alive by preserving her stories. Best wishes on your journey. Come join us around the kitchen table and share your stories. 🙂

  7. Hi Kathy–such a lovely blog post chock full of resources–the perfect example of a premier blog. You are so passionate about what you are doing, and what you are learning! It’s contagious, and you infect everyone around you with passion and the love of learning. Thank you for all your diligent research and the willingness to share what you have learned. And of course, good luck getting your memoir done!

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting,Linda Joy. As I’ve said before, most of what I’ve learned about memoir writing, I have learned from you. So thank you for your ongoing support and guidance on my journey. I look forward to 2012 as “The Year of the Memoir” as you have declared through NAMW 🙂

  8. Loved it Kathleen. So true what you said about journaling not being memoir writing. I’d taken a break from writing the last few weeks and you have inspired me to get back in there!

    • Jonna, Thanks for stopping by.After reading your fantastic memoir,”Will Love for Crumbs”, I can see why you needed to take a break! It’s clear to me you put your heart and soul into telling your story. I really appreciate your kind words and am happy you are inspired to “get back there.” I look forward to your guest post on my blog in April. Happy writing 🙂

  9. You pack a lot of punch into this post, Kathy. Great job! I particularly liked the advice to be distant enough to see it as story, and the requirement to develop “deep-in-your-core” belief in your story.

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