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Everything Memoir


Are you writing a MEMOIR or an AUTOBIOGRAPHY? (Free Chart)

Here's a QUIZ to help you figure out how to tell the difference between a memoir (or personal story) and an autobiography. Which one fits you best? (See answer key below.)


1) My story is going to be a detailed, meticulous history of my life (or someone else's life.) That means it is probably:
a. Memoir
b. Autobiography/Biography


2) My story is going to focus mostly on a certain season of my life. That means it is:
a. Memoir
b. Autobiography/Biography


3) With all that I'm planning to cover in my story, it's going to be several books (or one very long book). That means it is probably:
a. Memoir
b. Autobiography/Biography


4. I'm planning to include 2 or 3 short stories per chapter, crafted into scenes with dialogue. This is more commonly done with:
a. Memoir
b. Autobiography/Biography


5. I'll be writing in chronological order, not jumping around. This is probably:
a. Memoir
b. Autobiography/Biography


6. Plenty of background and accurate historical details are crucial for this:
a. Memoir
b. Autobiography/Biography


7. This should read almost like a novel, even though it's true:
a. Memoir
b. Autobiography/Biography


How did you do? Here is the answer key: 1) b; 2) a; 3) b; 4) a; 5) b; 6) b; 7) a.


I hope you aced the quiz, and that you have a little bit clearer understanding of the differences between memoir and autobiography.


As always, come on over to the Everything Memoir private Facebook group and ask questions (or send me an email using the contact form here on the website).

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What KIND of memoir are you writing?

Everything Memoir Flow Chart: What type of memoir fits you best?
Everything Memoir Flow Chart: What type of memoir fits you best?

Here it is! The first official Everything Memoir flow chart.




This flowchart will help you think through what SORT of memoir or personal story you are writing, or want to write. Knowing this seems to help people figure out how to think about their story--it brings some order and structure to a messy life (which is all of us!)


Do any of these sound like YOUR story? Or maybe two or three of them?


If you have a minute, tell us in the comments below which one sounds the MOST like YOUR memoir.


(NOTE: Feel free to share this flowchart on social media by using the share buttons below, or by dragging the graphic onto your desktop and printing it out, or posting it wherever you'd like!)

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What the heck is a memoir anyway?

What is the definition of a memoir?

QUESTION: What is the definition of memoir? This is something writers argue about because it's not really clear!


In the past, a memoir was usually written by a famous person such as a movie star or a politician. Famous memoirs by famous people include The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, and Elvis & Me by Priscilla Presley. They're usually written in chronological order, and include details on places, dates, and events in a person's life.


More recently, memoirs have become more personal, more creative, and more like a novel or a movie with vivid scenes. A memoir is often about a particular period of a person's life, not a whole life. If you're interested in writing a memoir, read a bunch of them to see how they're done (and avoid those by celebrities or politicians).


Great memoirs out right now include Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance; Educated by Tara Westover; Born a Crime by Trevor Noah; Undone by Michele Cushatt; and Birthing Hope by Rachel Stone.


Do you have a favorite memoir? I'd love to hear!

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MEMOIR TIP: Don't be afraid to jump in

MEMOIR TIP: "The most important things are the hardest things to say," Stephen King says in On Writing (a fantastic book, by the way. Be sure to read it!). This is what makes memoirs compelling, although it's not easy to do.


When tackling difficult issues, make sure you dig deeply. "Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground ... Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world."


In the case of memoir, you're digging into memory and experience and the more honest you can be with yourself, the more a reader will engage. Honesty is compelling.


This is your story; don't be afraid to jump in. Be bold and say what you've been wanting to say.

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Everything Memoir is now on Facebook!

Everything Memoir is now on Facebook! This new page is a place for people interested in writing a memoir or personal story. 




Whether it's still only an idea, or nearing completion, this is a place to connect, get advice from an expert, and find encouragement!


I've written or co-written 12 memoirs, and can't wait to share what I've learned along the way. If you haven't written a memoir yet, I'd encourage you to do so. Leaving a legacy for family and friends is one of the most satisfying experiences you'll ever have. It's not easy, but you'll be glad you did.


Hope to see you there!


Visit the new Everything Memoir Facebook page.




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"Everything Memoir" writing retreat May 12-17, 2019

You are invited to join me in an intimate setting for Everything Memoir, a five-day writing retreat with Susy Flory and Kathi Lipp on May 12-17, 2019. This is a "Writer in Residence Retreat" hosted by Writing At the Red House.


We want you to leave this week having been served good food, amazing fellowship, and great content that will have you energized and ready to launch into the next phase of your writing project.


Come and join us and get going on that life story you've always wanted to write (your own or someone else's)!! These retreats are a blast and in the lightest, airiest, cutest mountain house ever. Come hang out with us in the pines, just out of Sacramento. I can't wait!


Click the link below or email host Kathi Lipp, host of Writing at the Red House, at info@kathiliipp.com for more information.


More info here: Writing at the Red House: Everything Memoir

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Five Tips for Writing Memoir

Susy wrote Ryan's story in the book, Heaven Hears.

What makes for a great memoir? Here are 5 of my best tips for writing a fabulous memoir! 


1. A good memoir requires GREAT writing. There is no shortcut. Study up, learn from the best, and have wise and experienced people critique your work. Try, soak in the responses, revise and try again.


 2. Read a bunch of other books similar to the kind of memoir you want to write. You know your own story inside and out, but you might not know how other memoirists tell great stories. Look inside their bag of tricks—where do they speed up and leave things out? Where do they slow down and evoke intricate detail? Do they turn hard stuff into humor? How do they let you cry a bit before whisking you away again in a flurry of action? How do they handle family situations, perhaps hiding or changing identities of family members or friends to preserve privacy? (Hint: writers will often mention this somewhere in the book, or in an interview. Mary Karr talks about this issue in several interviews and podcasts.)


 3. Build in twists, turns and surprises. A memoir resembles a novel more than any other form of nonfiction. It might not be a bad idea to take some classes and workshops on writing fiction. Read great novels and pick apart the plots. You will need one for your memoir.


 4. Create a cast of characters. Your memoir is not just about one person, because no one lives in a vacuum. Who are the main person's people? Let's see them interacting. (And when your memoir gets optioned as a movie, you need a strong group of characters to rope in lots of great actors.)


 5. Speaking of characters, make them complex. The people in your memoir, including yourself, are complex and have good and bad sides. Especially the villains! Every villain and every hero has reasons for why they do what they do, and those reasons make perfect sense … to them.


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