How to Write a Memoir Essay to Remember

Memoir Essay 101. Sample Included

A memoir essay is one of the most exciting and introspective assignments you can receive in high school or college. If you were lucky enough to get to write this piece, but have no idea where to start, let me enlighten you. I’ll explain what it is, the thought process behind this essay type, and divulge three tips to make it perfect. Stay with me till the end, and I’ll share a memoir essay sample to inspire your writing.

What Is a Memoir Essay?

It is easy to guess that memoirs are nothing but memories on paper. They are akin to autobiography, but with an added twist. Where autobiographies are usually factual and a bit dry, memoir essays are rich with analysis, reflection, and even sidenotes. These make them a more pleasurable read, especially if you have the writing talent to make your piece captivating and exciting.

A memoir essay does not have to span your whole life, even if you are still in your twenties. It can tell about a particular period of your teenage years, your early childhood, or the gap year you took to travel abroad. The list of memoir essay ideas is endless, and you can choose the story you want to tell. However, be mindful of oversharing or divulging the facts you would rather stay unknown. You can also add a bit of creativity to your memoir by including vivid dreams you’ve had or your plans for the near future.

How to Write a Memoir Essay in 4 Easy Steps

Everyone’s writing process is different, but I find that these four stages are crucial to all assignments, memoir piece included:

Narrow Down the Storyline

There are dozens of memoir essay ideas available to you (I’ve already mentioned a couple). Periods of change, struggle, conflict are usually a safe bet, though you can also describe the most uneventful year of your life and fill the story with everyday rituals. You can narrow down your story to one month or scale it up to a decade of your life. Make sure the time period you choose tells one story. Otherwise, narrow it down further or split your essay into several parts, if the assignment allows it.

Outline the Story

Note all the important events you want to describe and leave enough room for reflections and analysis. Your story cannot simply contain the dry facts, or it will turn into an autobiography. Open the piece by introducing yourself, setting the time parameters of the story, and the thesis statement. Then go through the pivotal events and round up the outline with a conclusion that completes the story. You can also hint at the events that followed and leave the essay open-ended.

Write Your Tell-all

With an idea and outline ready, all you need to do is flesh out your story. Think of it as writing a diary or a journal, and the words will flow out of you onto the screen. If writing in chronological order is challenging, try starting with the most exciting part and extending the piece from there.

Get a Second Opinion

Never skip the post-writing routine of editing, proofreading, and formatting. Getting a second pair of eyes on your story is always a great idea, but if you don’t have that option, leave your memoirs essay for a while and come back to it in few days. Fresh eyes do wonders for finding unnecessary tangents and typos.

Three Quick Tips For Writing Memoir Essays

I’ve taken you through the paces, but now it’s time to step above the basics. When you follow the steps above, keep these three tips in mind, and your memoir essay will gain depth and the power to captivate the readers:

  1. Show, don’t tell. I know it’s old and beaten, but this advice works every time! Breathe life into your essay with the smell of the freshly mowed lawn, the sound of bacon sizzling in the kitchen, the taste of your mum’s rhubarb pie. Every detail makes your memoir essay more real for the reader, draws them in, and compels to read on.
  2. Research your history. Put on your Indiana Jones fedora and go digging into the old photo albums, diaries, letters. Talk to the people who were around you at the time you want to describe. They will share the perspective and details (cue tip #1) you might not remember. If nothing else, their stories might tickle your memory.
  3. Remain objective. When writing a personal memoir essay, you might be tempted to paint yourself a flawless hero beating all odds and overcoming insurmountable obstacles. Another extreme is showing yourself as a helpless victim of circumstance unable to change your destiny. Neither of these will make your story relatable. Instead, show your true colors, the struggles you’ve gone through, the problems you’ve had. Conflict makes for a captivating story.

Memoir Essay Example Worthy of Modelling

I am not a big fan of using other people’s work as a pattern to replicate in your writing. However, it is undoubtedly true that the more you read high-quality non-fiction pieces, the better your academic writing is likely to get. Your brain works as a recorder that consumes information before processing and replaying it. Therein lies the problem with reading one memoirs essay sample too many. You might not even notice your unconscious use of another’s style, phrases, or outline.

Another downside of reading samples is their low quality. Whenever you google a memoir essay example, you cannot know who has written it and what grade they have received (if they are a student). Relying on second-grade writing to guide your essay will never result in high grades.

If you want quality samples, look for personal memoir essay contests and winning entries. You can also check out non-fiction magazines that publish life stories. Even if the journal is published online, there is a higher chance of stumbling across quality writing there than on random blogs.

In my research, I’ve found Streetlight Magazine. It hosts an annual memoir essay contest and publishes entries by professional award-winning writers. Here’s an example of an essay about New York by Margaret Erhart. Check out the magazine’s website for more inspiration.
Example of memoir essay

One last word of caution: do not get caught up in reading samples. It is yet another procrastination tactic your brain wants to embrace. Reading outstanding writing is easier than opening a blank file and filling it with your life story. However, professors don’t award points for reading, they expect on-time submissions. Set a maximum number of samples you read at three or five and move on to outlining and writing.