Memoir writing: lists and outline



Part 2 in the series ‘ who wants to read about you’. By Linda J Pifer, author of Windows and Violet Hopes.

Get out your best organising skills – it’s time to keep track of all that minutiae!

Last month’s article suggested you scan or catalogue and file your boxed-up pictures, letters and cards to begin making your memoir. You’re bound to really love some of those pictures for various reasons, but most because they remind you of events, people and memories stored away in your noggin. You hopefully made story notes of those thoughts as you went.

This month, we’ll assume it took only four weeks for you to do the picture task, dreamer that I am, and you are ready to start outlining your memoir. It took me over a year while working a full time career to complete the picture project. So take the time you need, but here’s what you do next.

There are many sites offering various lists and formats to help you reclaim facts and memories for your memoirs or biography. A favourite of mine is the free Biography Assistant List of Topics available from

Find it at:

The list includes words, subjects, and life events that will inspire the writer to remember and document their own facts. Adding your story buzz words to one of these ready made templates makes its focus personal and prompts you to describe your unique life.

For example: ‘Birth/Adoption of Children.’ Where were you born? How did your mother get to the hospital? Did she get to the hospital?!; stories you’ve been told, your adoption and so on.

Another good example is ‘World Events’. That one gave me a chance to remember when the first space shuttle went up. My classmates and I sat in the school cafeteria watching it on a 21″ television up on the stage. I’ll never forget the “Wow” “Look at that” remarks from everyone; even the teachers. Do you remember where you were when the space shuttle first went up? How about the Mars land rover?

Next, create your basic outline with heading, title and subtitles for each buzz word on your list. Use the story notes from your photo project and add a brief one-liner description of each to the appropriate place on your outline. I suggest numbering your story notes so that you can refer to the specific page or file when it comes time to write your story.

Don’t forget to reference the picture(s) that inspired you to write the story note; inserting a thumbnail of that guy in the brown suit and bowler hat will help you later as you plan formatting for your book, or you can simply reference the specific picture in your outline, where it is filed, and basic info such as name of the person and date taken.

Using logic in the telling, such as progressing on a time line from birth is one way to organise facts. Your creativity could inspire you to organise by main chapters for instance: ‘The First Years,’ ‘Travel,’ ‘Grandparents,’ etc. You might prefer life lesson headers such as ‘How I learned to Say No,’ ‘Finding my Worth,’ ‘What school Taught Me,’ ‘Love Interests,’ etc., or a combination of both methods. Your outline will help you to lay out your ideas and to gauge how and if they work. The way you present the facts is entirely your decision. Keep in mind the info is clear to you since you lived it but more difficult for your readers to wrap their heads around.

Next month we’ll talk about beginning your life’s tale and some writing tips I learned the hard way. Don’t forget to comment with any questions or subjects you would like to see in these articles.



Books by Linda J Pifer

1 6/11/2014 permission sought

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