Choosing Stories for Your Memoir: 8 Questions to Ask Yourself

Filed in Writing Tips by on August 25, 2020 0 Comments

In order for a story to stay in your memoir it needs to do one of two things: Provide a deeper understanding, Advance the story forward...

Memoirs are the easiest to write because you have already lived the material, but they are also the most challenging to write because you have to find the balance between what stories you share and what information needs to be left out.

Writing a memoir doesn’t mean you have to include every aspect of your life from birth to your current status in life. Instead, great memoir writers know to pick and choose the best, most important stories to include. Oftentimes, memoir writers focus too much on their personal catharsis and less on the end-user: the reader. In order for a story to stay in your memoir it needs to do one of two things:

  1. Provide a deeper understanding of your book for the reader
  2. Advance the story forward

To build on that, readers don’t need to know every aspect of your life or every detail of specific situations; they only want to know what they need to know to make sense of the theme or themes in your book. In the thick of writing, it can be hard to step back and make good judgment calls on which stories to share and which ones to leave out of your book.

Here are 8 questions to ask yourself before you include it in your memoir:

1. Does the information support the overall theme of your book?

First, you must identify the theme of your book. Then, you must provide stories that support that theme. If the information doesn’t directly support the overall message of your book, you would only be taking your readers down a rabbit hole that leads nowhere. So, don’t include it.

2. What is driving you to share this information?

If anger, revenge, spitefulness, or any other negative emotion is the main driving force behind your desire to share a specific story, that’s exactly when you need to do some soul searching and ask yourself if your readers benefit from your anger or spitefulness.

3. Are you able to avoid clichés?

When writing a memoir, it’s hard to avoid clichés, but as the author of your story, you have to focus on finding different ways to present your personal story. For example, thousands of people directly experienced the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, but each of them experienced something completely different.

4. Do you have other people’s permission to share situations that directly involved them?

Before you get too far down the writing path, it is best to seek permission for specific stories that involve other people. If they don’t want to be part of your
memoir, you have to respect that. It’s not enough to change people’s names if you don’t ask their permission. However, if you do get permission to include other people in your memoir, you should change their names out of respect for them.

5. Does sharing this information benefit you or your readers?

There is a huge difference between working things out on paper that personally benefit you and including information in your book that benefits your reader. When writing a memoir, the material is no longer meant to serve you—it’s meant to be of service to your readers. If you’re still searching for closure about a specific situation, it’s best to do that personal growth work in a journal and not in your manuscript.

6. Can you share the information without a bias?

A writer who has done the personal work to heal his or her past traumas is most capable of presenting information without bias. It’s no longer about pointing fingers or throwing others under the proverbial bus. Instead, a healed writer can stay focused on helping readers release their individual traumas.

7. Do you feel comfortable using your real name on the cover of your book?

If you don’t feel comfortable adding your real name to your book cover, you may not be as comfortable as you thought you were with sharing certain stories in your manuscript. Take a timeout and ask yourself why you want to use a pen name instead of your real name. If you personally can’t stand behind your book, readers may perceive the material to be disingenuous.

8. Are there any repercussions to sharing information that you haven’t thought of yet?

Think through all the potential repercussions that can come out of sharing certain stories within your book. For example, if your child found your book and read it, would you be comfortable answering their questions? Could you experience any type of physical or psychological attack from others? Are you in the middle of a legal battle that directly pertains to any stories in your manuscript? These are only a few examples to think through, but you should do a thorough review of any negative situations you could put yourself in due to the information you present in your book.

The most important task you have as a memoir writer is ruthless when it comes to deleting stories that don’t directly support your theme and don’t serve a benefit for readers.

Looking to publish your memoir? Check out our book publishing services.

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About the Author ()

Erika Bennett is the Content Manager for Xulon Press. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than a decade and her passion is to make sure great books find their way into readers' hands. You can also find her writing on

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