Skip to main content

Everyone has a story, and you are undoubtedly
the best person to tell the story of your life! 

What a wonderful legacy to leave your children,
grandchildren and future generations


three generations


Let’s kill some perceptions before we get started. 

  • You don’t need to be famous to write your own autobiography.
  • You don’t need to be a professional writer.
  • You will always have an audience for your memoir.

First things first, what is your motive for writing up your story?

Are you wanting to write up your memoir as a keepsake for your children, grandchildren and future generations?  Or are you wanting to turn your life story into a published autobiography or a novel?  Your tone and choice of words will be different if you are writing for your family, or for the general public.

If you are writing for family, your story will require less detail as people, anecdotes and places may be more familiar to them.  If you are writing for those outside of your family group, the story will need to be more complex to allow for more detail on the characters and the events. 

You may think that your life has not been exciting enough to merit a memoir, but rest assured that your family will love to read about the history of your life and your ancestors, the events that you have lived through and the lessons you learned along the way.  And remember that the beauty of writing is that the most mundane event can be transformed and made interesting!

Memoirist Janice Erlbaum in her book “The Autobiographer’s Handbook” says “Look for the times when your life changed the most, and when you changed the most.  These are the times of peak drama in your life”.

If you are thinking about turning your autobiography into a novel, then it’s a good idea to read some of the great autobiographies that have already been written.  Choose a person who inspires you, or a topic that is meaningful – read their stories and get a sense of how life stories can be shared with the general public.

Writing a memoir will be a most invaluable endeavour.  It will help you understand your past.  It will provide a therapeutic outlet.  It will keep your mind sharp.  It is such a beneficial exercise.

Think about your core concept

The core concept  is the key to your memoir.  It could be about overcoming difficult times, lessons learned, enduring love despite the odds.  The core concept will pull the entire story together. 

Get organized

Where to start, I hear you say?   You need to gather your resources.  Start going through all your photo albums, diaries, and letters.  Speak to family members and friends.  Get them to help you remember all those significant long-forgotten events that could be peppered with entertaining stories.  Try and recall people you haven’t seen in years.  You might even want to try and connect with them again on Facebook as they might help you remember other people and events that you might not have thought about for years.   Be organized and keep a comprehensive filing system which is easily searchable and assists in your remaining organised whilst writing your memoir.

Keep a notebook with you at all times.  We all know that those wonderful ideas come to you between 3 and 4 in the morning!

Your story timeline

The “preproduction” stage is one of the most difficult, but extremely worthwhile.  Do a rough timeline/written outline of your story from start to finish.  Then decide whether your story will be in chronological order, or if it will concentrate on a theme or major event.  If you try to write your memoir without an outline or timeline, you could well become frustrated.   Remembering events may mean coming to terms with past difficulties or mistakes, which can be extremely therapeutic in itself.  Messy details don’t necessarily need to be included in the memoir, but remember no-one’s journey is perfect.

It is likely that you have lived through some historic and monumental events.  Think about these events and how they impacted your life.  Events like World War II,  9/11, Princess Diana’s death, the assassination of President John F Kennedy, the disintegration of the Challenger Space Shuttle.  Peppering your life story with these major events and how they impacted your life could add interest to your memoir.

Set goals

Setting goals such as the start date, weekly goals, a daily word count, or a chapter a week, will set you on the path to completion.  Decide on a date when the first draft needs to be completed.   Set a daily time to write – a date with yourself to write.  Maintaining and sustaining this daily habit is half the battle when writing a memoir.  It is just a matter of time before you find that the writing is less of a challenge and more of a daily necessity.

When you get into the swing of writing, don’t concern yourself with spelling mistakes, grammar or those minute details. Just write down everything that comes into our head.  The ideas will flow when you allow yourself to write freely without stopping to check everything.  That can be done later.

Join a local writing group

If you are serious about completing your memoir, joining a writing group could be just what you need, post-lockdown, of course.  Although many writing groups may well be meeting on zoom or skype.   The writing group members will provide you with the moral support that you are going to need.  They can critique your work, they will keep you inspired and your writing will be enhanced.

Edit the draft

It’s a good idea to get a good friend or family member to read your draft.  They will pick up mistakes and spelling errors, and their suggestions could help you complete your memoir.

The End

Writing your memoirs will be an amazing process.  Keep your focus and motivation, follow the plan and work on this every day, and your memoir could become a reality that will be a family treasure enjoyed by generations to come.



You’ve Earned It / YEI (,
the online retirement platform
for South African over-60s


  • Discounts, savings and benefits for baby boomers, seniors, pensioners and retirees

  • Informative and relevant articles geared at the senior market

  • Fab competitions

  • News/views/fun

Sign up for the FREE fortnightly
You’ve Earned It Newsletter HERE
and become a You’ve Earned It / YEI member


Other interesting articles:

Five work-from-home opportunities for SA pensioners

11 fascinating facts about old age

One Comment

  • Sonia BARRETT says:

    I started writing down my recollections a few years ago. My mum passed away when I was 65 and my gran 46 so I had already started asking for her memories of her childhood and also memories of her mother. it isn’t in any kind of order just a mish mash of decades gone by that I scribble down on a piece of paper to enter into a notebook. I literally jump from decade to decade, it doesn’t have to be perfect or in order. Try it, you’ll be surprised what you remember and I do get pleasure from rereading it….

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.