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Memoirs are a powerful tool to share your personal story with the world and allow readers to connect on a deeper level with you while also, hopefully, learning a little something about themselves.
Therefore, choosing the right topic is crucial as it can make or break your memoir. You want to choose a topic you're passionate about and that your readers will be able to relate to. A well-written memoir requires intense emotional labor—if you don't care about your topic, it will inevitably reflect in your writing.
Your story should be unique, inspiring, and most importantly, relatable for your readers.
The right topic will ensure that your memoir will be a success and provide inspiration to readers who may be going through similar experiences. It takes bravery to share personal stories with the world, but if done right, it can bring great fulfillment.
Brief Overview of the Process of Choosing a Topic for Your Memoir
Choosing a topic for your memoir can be overwhelming and daunting. However, by breaking it down into smaller steps, it can become more manageable.
Firstly, reflect on significant events in your life that have shaped who you are today; these could be positive or negative experiences. Next consider what lessons you learned from these events?
What do you want others to learn from them? The goal is not to necessarily tell everything about yourself but instead convey significant moments that have made an impact on who you are today as an individual.
After this introspective process comes brainstorming potential topics for your memoir; during this process there should not any limitations set in place such as how unique or unoriginal they may seem at first glance. Go all out!
Consider everything because sometimes even seemingly insignificant topics might develop into something profound. Once you've written down possible ideas comes researching similar memoirs within your chosen genre.
This allows you to identify themes that are overused, and topics that have not been explored yet. Ultimately, this will help to refine your memoir's topic and make it stand out from the crowd.
Reflect on Your Life Experiences
What Are the Most Significant Events in Your Life?
It's not hard to find ideas to write a book about your life.
As you think about potential topics for your memoir, start by reflecting on the significant events in your life first. These may include experiences that had a profound impact on you, shaped who you are today, and influenced the course of your life journey. Consider events such as graduating from college, overcoming a major obstacle or tragedy, falling in love for the first time, or embarking on a life-changing adventure.
What was the impact they had on who you are today? What was the biggest lesson you learned? Was it a lesson that your readers need to learn? Is it something they are hoping can change their lives as well?
Also, think about the people who have touched your life and how they have impacted you. Who taught you that biggest lesson? Who helped shape you into the person you are today? Did it happen over time, as with parenting or education? Or did it happen in a burst, like a chance meeting?
A lot of people focus on some sort of trauma they had in their life, but significant events don't necessarily have to be traumatic; there are probably a lot of positive ones as well. Sometimes our most profound experiences come from adversity and challenge, other times from learning a new skill or taking a risk that paid off. Take some time to reflect on both good times and bad times in your life.
What Lessons Have You Learned from These Events?
As you reflect on significant events in your life, think about what lessons each experience taught you. What did you learn? How did it change you?
Did it shift your perspective or priorities? For example, perhaps overcoming a difficult illness taught you the importance of taking care of yourself physically and mentally. Or maybe losing someone close to you made you realize how short and precious life is. Whether you learned a life skill or went through a mindset shift, make note of the change that happened within you and how that change continues to impact you to this day.
How can your readers use this part of your story to improve their business or improve their life?
Don't be afraid to dig deep into these experiences and explore what they taught you about yourself, others, and the world around us.
What Do You Want to Share with Others?
Once you've identified significant events and considered what lessons they taught you, think about what aspects of these experiences are worth sharing with others through your memoir. Perhaps there's something universal about your journey that can inspire readers going through similar struggles. Or maybe there are insights that only someone who has gone through something similar can understand fully.
Sharing these experiences is essential for readers and what they can gain from your story. Ultimately, the goal of a memoir is to connect with others, share wisdom, and inspire them to make positive changes in their own lives based on your experiences.
Start with Your Audience
When I started writing my book, Write Out Loud: How To Get Over Your Fears And Build The Confidence To Finally Write Your Book, I started with my audience first: what did my audience need to know? What were they after? What did they want?
Of course, my audience is made up of primarily writers:
- People who want to make a living as an author
- People who want to make money writing
- People who want to be freelance writers
- People who want to write blogs
- People who are writing their first books
- Business owners who are trying to write a book
There are a lot of books available that can help you learn how to write and publish a book, and I know my audience can really go to any of these other resources and write a great book. But one thing I also know about my audience in particular is that a lot of them get blocked when they are writing their book. They struggle with fear, anxiety, and writer's block.
So my audience wanted more than just another book that would tell them the steps to writing and publishing a book: they wanted a book that would help them with their anxiety while they wrote their book.
That led me to crawling through a lot of my experiences, both on my own and with my clients, to pull together the best tips and stories that would help with each of those fears.
Knowing your audience will help you choose a topic that will resonate with them and keep them engaged throughout the entire book. Consider what themes or topics would interest them and what they might want to learn from your life experiences.
Who Do You Want to Read Your Memoir?
Is your target audience friends and family members? Are you writing for a wider demographic, such as those who are passionate about travel, personal growth, or overcoming adversity? It’s important to identify exactly who you want reading your memoir.
If you’re writing for family and friends, they’ll want to hear more about your personal relationships with others in the book. If you're writing for another audience you've built up, such as for your business, then you'll want to stick with themes that would either attract your ideal client to you or build your authority further within your industry.
If you’re writing for a wider audience, you might want to focus on universal themes like love, loss, or overcoming obstacles.
What Other Topics Would Interest Them?
Believe it or not, your audience probably has other interests besides just the lesson you want to help them learn.
This is both good and bad news.
Think about what topics would resonate most with your potential readers. For example, my audience is primarily younger writers and creative entrepreneurs. Which means in addition to learning how to write and how to make a living as a freelance writer, they are also interested in learning things like how to work from home, time management—things that don't relate directly to writing.
And, of course, because of who I am online and the type of content I write on my blog or post on YouTube or TikTok, a lot of my audience is also interested in how to write with ADHD, inclusion, diversity, and supportive of LGBTQIA+ matters.
And that's not all. A lot of my audience reads science fiction and fantasy.
Combined, this meant being able to pull together lessons and references from my own experiences, client experiences, and Doctor Who. I could use stories to teach someone how to tell stories.
Heck, I used stories to try to show just how much your story matters.
What are people currently reading? What can you add to this topic based on your own unique story?
How Can You Make Your Story Relatable?
One of the most important things to remember about writing a memoir is that your story needs to be relatable.
Yes, you're amazing and your story is incredible, but if a reader is not able to relate to you, they won't stick around to hear your whole story.
Readers want to know what makes you special and different, but first they have to feel as if you are one of them. After all, how can you help them if you don't even understand what they're going through?
Put it this way: everyone wants to eventually hear about how you climbed Mt. Everest, but they can only relate to how you drove to the grocery store.
Making connections with readers is key when it comes to creating engaging content. Readers will feel more invested in the book if they can relate their own experiences with yours. It’s important not only to write about universal themes but also events that readers can relate to directly - whether it be heartbreaks from romantic relationships gone wrong or losing a loved one - sharing personal experiences will make the book relatable and engaging.
If they share your experience at the grocery store, they will be more invested to follow along as you tell them about the view from the top of the mountain.
Sorting Through Potential Topics
Memoirs are a fantastic way to share your personal experiences and connect with readers. But the first and most crucial step towards writing a successful memoir is choosing the right topic.
It's essential to brainstorm potential ideas before settling down on one particular topic. Remember, this is YOUR story, and you must choose something that resonates with you on a personal level.
List out all possible ideas, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem
When brainstorming for potential topics, don't limit yourself. Write down everything that comes to mind, even if it seems trivial or too mundane.
I like to use a brain dump for this step.
Don't worry about filtering any of your ideas just yet: don't label them as good or bad or make any decisions about whether or not to use them or where they go. You're really just trying to download all of these ideas out of your head and onto a piece of paper or into a document on your computer so you can sort through them later.
Don't forget about small moments either - moments that might seem unimportant at the time but later prove to be significant turning points in your life. Jot down anything that you think would make an interesting story; it could be something as simple as a conversation with an acquaintance or an encounter with a stranger on a bus.
Narrow down the list based on personal significance and audience appeal
After compiling all possible ideas for your memoir, it's time to narrow down the list. Focus on topics that have personal significance to you - stories that you feel passionate about telling - because these are often the stories that resonate more deeply with readers. Consider your audience when narrowing down your list of potential topics too.
Once again, while it's essential to write about what interests you, keep in mind what will appeal to your readership too. Think about who will want to read your memoir and what kind of stories they might find engaging.
Brainstorming is an essential part of selecting the perfect topic for your memoir. Don't hold back when jotting down ideas, even if they seem insignificant at the time.
From there, narrow your list down to stories that have personal significance and audience appeal that will help you achieve the goal you're after with your memoir. This can help you narrow down the exact pieces of your life you want to include as well as in which order you want to write about them.
Research Similar Memoirs
One of the best ways to choose a topic for your memoir is to read other memoirs that seem to cover similar ideas. This will give you an idea of what has been done before, what topics are popular, and what readers are looking for.
And you don't have to worry about plagiarizing since you're only writing about your own story and you're not trying to rewrite someone else's stories.
But by studying other works in your field, you can find inspiration, identify gaps in the market, and learn what it takes to write a compelling memoir. You can see effective ways for how to put your experiences into words that your audience will want to read.
When reading other memoirs, pay attention to how the author structures their story. What themes do they explore? How do they handle difficult or sensitive issues? What makes their writing stand out? By analyzing these elements, you can get a better understanding of what works and what doesn't.
Of course, jot everything down as new ideas come to you and how to apply these lessons to your own memoir.
Look for Gaps in the Market
While reading other memoirs can be helpful, it's also important to identify gaps in the market that you can fill with your unique story. This means finding topics that are underrepresented or overlooked by other authors. For example, if you're writing a memoir about your struggle with addiction, then what are other books that cover addiction missing?
What do you wish you had been able to read and learn when you were still struggling with addiction that you can pass on to someone new now?
Maybe you have a unique perspective on working in a specific industry or living with a certain disability. Whatever your experience may be, finding an untapped niche will set your story apart and make it more appealing to readers.
Choosing a topic for your memoir can be an emotional and personal journey, but it's important to evaluate the feasibility of your chosen topic before diving in. You need to consider whether or not you can realistically write about this topic, if you have enough material to fill a book, and if it will be too emotionally taxing to write about.
- Can you realistically write about this topic? Before committing to a topic, assess whether or not you have the skills and knowledge necessary to effectively write about it. Can you conduct research if needed? Do you have personal experience with the subject matter that allows for an authentic voice? Consider whether or not this is a project that can fit into your schedule and life.
- Do you have enough material to fill a book? It's essential that there is enough content surrounding your chosen topic for it to successfully make up an entire book. Research the genre and use other memoirs as guidance. If most memoirs in your genre are around 250 pages long and yours only has enough material for 50 pages, it may be time to reconsider your choice.
- Will it be too emotionally taxing to write about? Writing a memoir requires vulnerability, honesty, and reflection on personal experiences. It's important that you consider how deep your connection is with the subject matter. If writing about a particular event or period in your life will cause too much emotional distress, then perhaps saving that story for another time would be best.
You'll also want to evaluate whether or not the events are appropriate for publication. Will sharing certain stories harm others involved? Is there any legal risk associated with sharing certain information?
These questions should be carefully considered before moving forward. Evaluating the feasibility of your chosen topic is essential prior to beginning any writing project.
Be honest with yourself regarding whether or not you have the skills and knowledge necessary to write about the subject matter, if there's enough content for a full-length book, and whether or not it will be too emotionally taxing for you to write about. By doing so, you'll ensure that your memoir is a successful project that is both rewarding to write and meaningful to readers.
Do not get caught up in the trap of overthinking
I've known plenty of authors who will hear a question like "do you have the skills and knowledge necessary to write a book about your life" and immediately freak out that they don't because they aren't a writer or because they are not recognized as any sort of expert or don't have formal training.
So let me assure you that when I ask you to take an honest look at your skills and whether or not you can write a book about your life, I am not necessarily talking about formal training—as a writer or any other professional.
Anyone can learn how to write a book, and if not, well, that's what editors are for.
Only you can tell your story.
No one can write about an experience quite like someone who's had that experience.
I'll put it to you this way: I went back to school to get my master's degree in psychotherapy when I was 35, and I chose to specialize in child development and adolescents. So I learned about parenting, child development, early childhood development, and family therapy. And yet, no matter how much I learned in that program, becoming a mother for the first time when I was 38 gave me a whole new perspective I didn't have before.
It really is true: nothing can replace that experience.
Does that mean I didn't know anything before becoming a mother? Of course not. I had learned a lot, and quite honestly a lot of what I learned helped me as a mom. But becoming a mother allowed me to go deeper than learning allowed. Now, not only did I retain everything I learned in school, but having the experience allowed me to see how it worked in application and allowed me to explore different boundaries.
Additionally, with so many things in parenting depending on who you are as a parent and who your child is as a person, learning all the theories just can't fully prepare you for every variable. But going through the experience can help prepare you for the variables that apply to you.
This also means you don't have to have a master's degree in child development to talk about what it was like to be a parent to your child or to write a book about what you learned about parenting by being a parent. Obviously you can't pretend to be an "expert" in child development and you can't say that your experience is typical of all parents, but you can certainly tell your story, describe the lessons you've learned, talk about the impact of those lessons, and others may well learn from or be inspired by your story.
Your Memoir Topic Should Excite and Motivate You
Writing a memoir is a deeply personal project that requires time, effort, and emotional energy. Your passion for that topic will show through in your writing and keep you motivated throughout the writing process. Your passion for your topic will engage readers and make them feel invested in your story.
Think about what you love to do, what inspires you, or what makes you happy. Consider how these passions have contributed to the person you are today and how they can be woven into your memoir.
Choosing a topic that excites and motivates you will not only make the writing process easier but also more enjoyable. For example, if cooking is something that brings joy to your life, perhaps there's a story about how cooking has helped shape who you are. Maybe there's an anecdote tied to a specific recipe or dish that holds special meaning for you. These details may seem small but can add depth to your memoir and make it more relatable for readers who share similar interests.
If there's nothing obvious about your life that inspires passion within you, consider looking through old journals or photo albums for inspiration. Sometimes memories of past experiences can reignite excitement about your life story.
But notice what I said: the topic of your memoir should excite and motivate you.
When you're excited about writing a book, it's really easy to sit down and start writing. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, that motivation can die out as they begin writing. Blocks, familial routines, other commitments, overthinking and anxiety can all start to seep in and slowly eat away at your motivation. But when you're really passionate about the topic of that book, then it's a lot easier to stay motivated because you're not just excited about having a book published—you're excited about telling your story.
Readers will Feel the Passion Through Your Writing
The most compelling memoirs are those written with heart - those where the author's passion shines through in every word on the page. When writers pen stories they care deeply about, it shows in their work - they're more likely to be descriptive, emotionally honest, and tell stories with memorable characters.
Your passion will show through in your writing and engage readers.
Your passion for the subject matter will translate into telling details of settings and situations; emotional arcs of characters; moments of reflection on the impact events have had on personal growth. These details will transport your readers and allow them to empathize with you, even if they've never experienced something similar.
Passion for your memoir topic can also help you overcome obstacles in the writing process. There will likely be moments of self-doubt, writer's block, or confusion about what direction to take your story.
But if you're excited about your topic and committed to sharing it with the world, you'll have the motivation to push through those tough times. Writing a memoir is a vulnerable endeavor that requires a lot of courage.
Sharing personal stories with others can be scary and intimidating - but when your passion for the story shines through in your writing, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Readers will feel invested in your journey and inspired by the lessons you've learned.
Final Thoughts on Choosing a Topic for Your Memoir
Choosing the perfect topic for your memoir can be a daunting task, but it is crucial to the success of your book. Your story needs to be both personal and relatable, and it should hold enough significance to engage your readers throughout the entire story. By reflecting on your life experiences, considering your audience, brainstorming potential topics, researching similar memoirs, evaluating feasibility, and choosing a topic that excites you, you can ensure that you have chosen the perfect topic for your memoir.
Your life experiences are unique to you. You have faced challenges and learned lessons that others may not have experienced.
Reflecting on these events can help you identify what is most significant in your life. Once you've identified these events or moments, consider why they're important to you.
What did they teach you? How did they shape who you are today?
These reflections can help guide you towards a memoir topic that is personal and meaningful. Another important consideration when choosing a memoir topic is your audience.
Who do you want to read your book? What topics would be interesting or relatable for them?
By understanding who will be reading your book, you're better equipped to choose a topic that will appeal specifically to them. Brainstorming potential topics is also an important step in the process.
Don't limit yourself during this stage – write down anything that comes to mind no matter how insignificant it may seem at first glance. Once everything is written down, evaluate each potential topic based on its personal significance and audience appeal.
The feasibility of writing about a certain topic must also be considered before making the final decision. You need enough material to fill an entire book without losing momentum or leaving out any crucial details of the story; however, writing about certain topics may also be too emotionally taxing for some authors.
It's important to find a balance between writing what is personal and meaningful, and what is also feasible for you as a writer. Choosing the perfect topic for your memoir requires careful consideration of your life experiences, audience, feasibility, passion, and creativity.
By following the steps outlined in this article, you can write a book about your life that not only tells an entertaining story but also connects with readers on a personal level. Remember to stay true to yourself and your story – it's what will make your memoir stand out.