You don't need an introduction for your memoir. Really, you don't.


I spent the weekend at a writer’s conference, taking appointments with people who wanted advice about the work they had done so far on their memoir. Without exception, every manuscript I saw started out with an introduction. Most of them were long. Many were ponderous. All were boring.

I was intrigued to see that every introduction included a version of these elements, written in different ways, and quite often repeated several times:

I wanted to write this book for these important reasons [insert important reasons here].

I’m not a writer, but it’s been on my heart for a long time to write this book.

Wow, writing is hard!

Most of all, I’ve written this for you, dear reader.

In other words, every introduction was the same as every other introduction.

Here’s the thing: nobody cares… yet.

What do readers of memoir care about? They’re there first of all for the story or the hook they’ve been promised.

‘How I coped after my son was diagnosed with autism.’

‘Why I quit my job and went backpacking across Asia for five years and ended up living in a yurt.’

‘How I learned to live like the Eskimos.’

Your readers pick up your book because of the part of your story that speaks to them, or appeals to their curiosity. At the beginning, it is all about them. Later, when they’ve met you on the page and they feel like they know you, it’s about you-and-them. If they like you, they’ll be keen to read the reasons you wrote the book, how you felt about writing it, and how hard it was to do. (If they don’t like you, they won’t care, but that’s another story… you’ve got to make sure you put your whole self on the page.)

So, you don’t need an introduction for your memoir. You might like to include something small and personal at the back as a postscript, but keep it away from the front. Start with what your readers are looking for: the story, a character, and a transformation. Once you’ve delivered that, you’ve earned the right to speak freely.

Is my memoir worth writing? (Spoiler: yes it is)

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Some of the writers in my ‘Write Your Memoir’ course get a little worried when they’re starting out.

They want to write their story — but they also don’t believe that anyone would want to read it.

They think: ‘it’s not important enough’ or ‘it’s not significant’ or, and this is something I hear frequently, ‘my life has just been normal’.

Of course, we all know of memoirs that tell incredible stories of bravery, suffering or triumph – the ones that are a publisher’s dream. Those stories can be moving, inspiring and challenging.

But I believe that even the small, ordinary stories are worth telling.

There are two keys when you’re telling a ‘small’ story. First: know what a story is.

It’s more than just an anecdote, or a series of events. It’s more than an emotion or that time when we fell in love, or the trip we took.

Any and all stories contain certain, distinctive elements which work together, in the right order, and in the right proportion, to produce a sense of suspense, build up, completion and satisfaction in the hearer or the reader.

  • The beginning of the story must include an obstacle or problem, and a point of decision.

  • The main character of the story must choose to act, rather than be a passive recipient of circumstances.

  • There must be a significant low point, and a regathering of strength, and some kind of showdown.

  • Finally, we must see change in the main character. The events of the story have affected them internally as well as externally.

The second key is this: understand how your story has changed you.

The transformation of the main character is an important part of a memoir. It’s what makes a ‘small’ story – even a ‘trivial’ story – worth reading. When you are able to write with honesty and vulnerability: “this changed me”, you are on the road to writing a story which might help to change others.

Of course, to be able to write this requires self-knowledge and awareness, the willingness to be open, and the vulnerability of putting yourself out there. But if you are courageous enough to put these things on the page, your readers will truly appreciate it.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering if your story is important enough to write?

If so, I’d encourage you to think in two ways: firstly, what exactly is my story, and secondly, how have these events changed me?

Let me say it again: your story doesn’t have to be a long screed of drug use, abuse or suffering.

It could be as simple as the book my young daughter brought home from the library, about the true adventures of a troublesome puppy and what its owner learned. It seems like a trivial little tale on one hand. On the other hand, my daughter loved it. And she’ll take the lessons from it and absorb them into her own life. Which makes it a worthwhile and valuable story.

This post was first published at Christian Writers Downunder

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Cecily Paterson’s online Write Your Memoir course helps first time authors with the confidence and skills they need to tell their story. Her own memoir, Love Tears & Autism won third place in the 2012 Australian Christian Book of the Year Awards.

Writing Your Memoir? Five courses for first time writers


First time writer? Writing your memoir is possible.

Yes, it is possible — even if you don’t have a ‘proper’ education. Even if you’ve never written anything before. Even if you’re not sure about where all the punctuation goes in a sentence.

There are so many things we think could stop us writing our story. The truth is, we can do almost anything when we find the right tools, the right teacher, and the right encouragement and support.

Sometimes I get requests from people who want to tell their stories, but they don’t feel able to do it themselves. They think they should get someone else to do the writing part for them, so they ask me to do it.

“Can you ghostwrite my story for me?” they ask.

The question makes me sad. Because I firmly believe that you are the very best person to tell your own story.

When you do the writing, it’s your life. It’s your voice. It’s you, on the page.

Plus, you get the emotional and personal rewards that come from doing it. And don’t doubt — those rewards are considerable.

You need the right tools

You need to know how to start thinking about your story: what it is, and what it isn’t. You need to know the things that every memoir needs, and the things you can leave out.

You need some basics on planning your story out, what to put where, and what goes in each chapter.

You need to know what to put into your sentences so that people will want to read them. You’ll need to know how to write dialogue, and what kind of dialogue to write.

You need the right teacher

We humans are a funny old bunch. We do better when there’s someone on our team, cheering us on. We need to know that we can ask them questions and not feel stupid. We want to know that someone has our back, for when we feel discouraged.

To write your memoir, you’ll need someone who’s done it before you and who knows the process.

You’ll need someone who can put it into simple language and make it obvious to even the least ‘writerish’ kind of person.

A Write Your Memoir course makes it possible

You could go to the library and check out a book on how to write Your memoir, but if you’re really going to commit to doing the work and telling your story, my best suggestion is to do a course.

Having course materials to work through gives you all of the tools you need - step by step planning tools, writing skills, and time management tips.

Having a teacher there in front of you in a classroom, or, if it’s an online course, at the end of an email or on Facebook lets you ask all the questions you need. You’ll know you’re on the right track, and you can get your worries sorted out very quickly.

What course is best?

The great wide world of the internet will take you to a variety of Write Your Memoir courses. To make your decision, you’ll need to look at:

Price — what’s affordable for you, given your situation and how much you want to invest in your writing? Is it good value for what you get?

Location is the course near you, if it’s an on-location course. Do the dates suit? Otherwise you may need to consider an online course, where you can work at your own pace, contacting your teacher via email and social media.

Personality — Do you like the instructor? They might have a voice that grates, or they might not smile enough… or too much. It’s important to feel an affinity with the teacher, and to ‘get’ them, and feel that they ‘get’ you. Do you ‘vibe’ with the teacher?

Complexity — Are you looking for a course that covers a great deal of material in depth, or are you more interested in learning exactly what you need to know without extra fluff?

Results — Are there happy customers who are willing to talk about their experiences in the course? Does it rate well? Have people finished their memoirs after going through the course?

Support — What extra support does the course offer? Could you meet up with course participants, or meet on a facebook page for example?

Which course?

When you’re making your decision, here are some courses to consider:

Writers Digest University: Memoir 101 — A good basics course from a reputable site.

Write Your Memoir in Six Months — Promises to deliver within a time frame, which may be useful if you’re keen to get the project over and done with.

Write Your Memoir in Paris — super fun if you can afford it.

Memoir with Marion Roach Smith — Great teaching here, but it becomes more costly as you move through.

Write Your Memoir: Pay What You Can — designed for people who’ve never written before: it gives you everything you need to know and nothing you dont… and it’s immensely affordable at ‘Pay What You Can Afford’.


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Writing a memoir, but you're not sure how to begin, or what to include? Grab our Red Lounge for Writers FREE Memoir mini-course for some answers.