The Page a Day Writers Group

Ever Thought About Writing a Memoir?

Posted on: March 28, 2016

2D07078A00000578-0-image-a-15_1443824642109Hi there. Trish Wilkinson here, novelist, writing coach, freelance editor, and member of Page a Day Writers. Recently, I decided to post writing tools on my Write to Win! website using materials I present at workshops. I thought Page-a-Day readers might appreciate them as well. Below is the beginning of the outline author Howard Shulman and I used to teach workshops in February on writing memoir for San Diego Writers’ Ink and the Southern California Writers’ Conference. If you have questions or would like further assistance, send an email to, and I’ll be happy to help.


Memoir: How to Write a Salable Personal Story and Enjoy the Process

  • The three things that will make your memoir successful:


  1. Write your story as the illustration of a universal theme

(what Marion Roach Smith, author of The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-standardized Text for Writing and Life(TMP), calls “The algorithm”, p.23)

Exercise 1: Write your own statement that describes your memoir below.


“This is a story about ____________________________ and the illustration is




Examples: – This is a story about the struggle for love and acceptance, and the illustration is Howard Shulman’s disfigurement as an infant and subsequent abandonment by his birth parents. Running from the Mirror

– This is a story about self-discovery, and the illustration is Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey choosing places to explore pleasure, spirituality and love. Eat, Pray, Love

– This is a story about emotional survival, and the illustration is Augusten Burroughs’s childhood, coping with his mother’s mental illness. Running with Scissors

– This is a story about love and loss, and the illustration is Nicholas Sparks’s relationships with his family members.Three Weeks with My Brother

Ask yourself: Who are you in your memoir? What is your position as the expert who has experienced your theme? What is your purpose; that is, what’s in it for the reader?


  1. Tell the truth (be real, for better or worse, because that’s what gives you credibility).


  1. In the revision phase, make every word/page drive your story forward in a context the reader can relate to (see hand out for the “how to” on “showing” vesrsu”telling”). If a sentence or scene doesn’t relate to your theme, leave it out.


“…when you have a flash of understanding on one topic, you can write an essay. Write an essay and you tackle a scene. Master the scene, and you can write seventy-five of them and have yourself a book. And here’s an unexpected dividend: Write a book about an aspect of your life, and you might gain perspective since … success in writing is all about which details you choose to emphasize.” (TMP, p. 34)

Click here for two more exercises, specific steps for revision once you’ve written your first draft, and concrete publishing options.

Happy writing!

Trish W.



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Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!


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