How to Create a Memoir Outline

Filed in Writing Tips by on July 19, 2023 1 Comment

Older man sitting at a desk writing, how to write a memoir outline

Writing a memoir can be a rewarding experience for you as the writer. It allows you to share your unique story, insights, and experiences with family, friends, and the world. Embarking on such a journey, however, may feel a little overwhelming without some planning and organized thoughts. That’s why creating a memoir outline is an important first step before your write your manuscript.

In this blog post, we will discuss why book outlines are helpful, examine different outlining approaches you can try, and we’re sharing an example of a memoir outline using Ernest Hemingway’s life events.

5 Ways Book Outlines are Helpful

A memoir outline serves as a roadmap for your story. It provides structure, organization, and clarity to your writing process. The outline prevents you from getting lost and going off topic, which helps keep your message tight and clear for your future readers. Here are a few reasons book outlines are helpful:

  1. Organization: An outline allows you to arrange your thoughts and ideas in a logical order. You could almost treat your outline like a to-do list. Your outline also ensures that your book flows well from chapter to chapter, so you can maintain coherence.
  2. Clarity: By creating an outline, you can spot and clarify your book’s main themes, as well as key events and significant moments to discuss. You’ll be more likely to stay focused on the core message you want to convey in your book if you follow an outline. This also helps you avoid tangents and unnecessary digressions.
  3. Spotting Gaps: Creating an outline allows you to identify any major gaps in information in your story that your readers will need. One of the hardest parts of writing a memoir is that the writer knows the full story without any gaps in knowledge, whereas readers are reliant on the writer sharing full details. So, spotting gaps in knowledge for your readers during the outlining process ensures a more robust and fuller story in the end.
  4. Time Management: An outline helps you effectively manage your time, which ensures you stay on track with your writing schedule.
  5. Reader Engagement: An outline also helps you create a better reading experience for your future reading audience. It helps you pace anticipation, maintain suspense, and have a compelling narrative arc that keeps readers hooked from the beginning until the end of your memoir.

Different Outlining Approaches to Try for a Memoir Book

When it comes to outlining your memoir, there are several approaches you can try to help organize your thoughts and create a coherent structure. Using one or more of these outlining tools can enhance your writing process and ensure that your memoir is well written.

Here are a seven outlining approaches to consider:

  1. Chronological Order: With a chronological outline, you’ll start from the beginning of your life and follow a linear timeline to the present time. This approach allows readers to experience the events in the same order that they happened to you.
  2. Theme-Based Outline: If you decide to use a theme-based outline, you’ll center your memoir around specific themes or topics that are important to your story. Each chapter can explore a different theme, such as love, loss, career, or personal growth.
  3. Flashback Structure Outline: For this type of structure, you’ll begin with a key event or moment in your life, then you will use flashbacks to provide context and background information. This approach can add suspense and intrigue to your memoir.
  4. Geographic or Location-Based Outline: If you’re well-traveled or moved around a lot in your life, you might decide to structure your memoir around different locations you’ve lived or have been significant in your life. Each chapter can focus on a specific place and the memories associated with it.
  5. Emotional Journey Outline: If you want to share what you’ve learned with others about an emotional journey you’ve experienced, then you may want to lay out the emotional journey you went through during the events covered in your memoir. Start with the initial emotions, then trace the shifts and transformations that occurred in your life.
  6. Problem-Solution Outline: To use a problem-solution type of outline, write down the challenges and/or problems you faced during your life and structure your memoir around how you overcame them.
  7. People and Relationships Outline: The last type of outline option we recommend is the people and relationship outline. In this type of outline, you’ll focus on the significant people in your life and the impact they had on your story. Each chapter can explore a different relationship and its influence on your journey.

There’s no right or wrong way to outline a memoir, so feel free to mix and match the approaches we listed above or even try a free write of ideas if you haven’t quite decided the flow of your memoir yet. Experiment with different approaches until you find the one that resonates with your story and writing style. The key here is for you to find a structure that helps you effectively convey your experiences and use them to connect with your readers on a deeper level.

Memoir Outline Example

While Ernest Hemingway had a memoir, A Moveable Feast, published posthumously, we drafted a memoir outline using his life events to show an example of how simple one can be:

Have questions about drafting your memoir outline? Add them in the comments section and we’ll do a follow-up post with questions and answers!


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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