Skip to main content

Ask an Expert: Top 7 Memoir Writing Tips

Are you Ready to Share Your Life Story?

Mosman biographer Gabriella Kelly-Davies has been running free memoir writing groups for locals for several years. She has helped many of them to write their life story, but there are many more who ask her for advice on kickstarting their writing project. If you have always wanted to write your memoir or life story but don’t know how to start, here are the top seven life writing tips Gabriella shares in her workshops.

1. Memoir or life story?

The first thing to decide is whether you will write your memoir or life story. A memoir captures a theme, a collection of memories or a moment in the writer’s life, whereas a life story or autobiography usually covers an entire life. If you are not sure whether to create a memoir or life story, just start writing about your memories and see where it takes you.

2. Getting started

Many people find it hard to get started. If this is you, try to develop a regular writing habit by spending five minutes each day writing about specific memories, facts about yourself, anecdotes or key learnings. Once you get into it, gradually build up the time you spend writing each day. You’ll be surprised at how quickly five minutes becomes an hour or more.

3. Jogging your memory

If you find remembering difficult, open your photo albums and study each picture. This will help you recall the smaller details of each event by showing you who was there, the expressions on everyone’s faces, body language, clothes, hairstyles, and much more.

Other ways of jogging your memory include interviewing family and friends, listening to music from different stages of your life, reading your diaries or journals, and reflecting on memorabilia.

4. Deciding what to share

As you reflect on your journey, try to focus on how you experienced your unique life. Write about key turning points, your passions and what inspires you. Readers also love to understand the lessons you learned by navigating through life’s many challenges.

5. Organising your story

There are many ways to organise your life story, but you don’t have to decide on the structure at the beginning of the project. Instead, do it when it feels right. At that point, you can decide whether to follow a chronological structure, where to drop your reader into the story, whether you skip from past to present, and whether you include flashbacks and backstory to enrich your storytelling.

6. Creating vivid scenes

Our brains store memories as sensations, so when you re-create scenes from your life, remember to record the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. Show the reader what was happening rather than telling them by using concrete nouns such as blue gum or jacaranda rather than tree, and strong verbs such as strolled or strode rather than walked. Anton Chekov captured the difference between showing and telling when he said: ‘Don’t tell me the sun is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

7. Stimulate your readers’ imaginations

One of your jobs as a writer is to stimulate your readers’ imaginations. Rather than writing: ‘Balmoral Beach was beautiful today’, describe the scene in minute sensory detail so your readers can decide for themselves whether it was beautiful. Describe the water. What colour was it? Was it crystal clear? Was the sky cloudless? Were delicate wisps of clouds stretched across the sky? Or were storm clouds building up? Were the waves crashing on the sand, or was the water completely still and soundless? Could you hear children laughing and squealing with delight?

Want more tips?

If you’re looking for tips on how to write your life story, Gabriella can help you. She can write your story for you or coach and mentor you to write it yourself. Her blog is bursting at the seams with free advice on how to write a life story, so if you are looking for inspiration, immerse yourself in the blogs and see where they take you.


If you would like to speak with Gabriella her mobile is 0408 256 381 or email her at