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  • Writer's pictureAl Desetta

Why is it so hard to write a memoir by yourself?

Updated: Mar 24

You sit down at your desk, the cluttered surface a mirror of the whirlwind in your mind.

You grip the pen tightly. The blank page before you mocks your struggle to bring your life story to paper. Memories swirl like leaves caught in an autumn wind, moments of triumph tangled with trials, joys intertwined with sorrows.

Trying to capture their essence feels like grasping at smoke.

With each attempt to write, painful moments resurface. The pen hovers, reluctant to reopen those wounds. Doubt overcomes you and you question whether your life is really worth telling. Who would care about these seemingly ordinary experiences?

Your life's story is a labyrinth that you must navigate in order for it to become a memoir.
Your life's story is a labyrinth that you must navigate in order for it to become a memoir.

The labyrinth of your personal history stretches out in every direction. Maintaining objectivity feels impossible when you are so embedded in the narrative. The coherent thread that could weave it all together remains maddeningly elusive, lost in the chaos of your memories.

Writing about yourself is challenging. Let's dig into the reasons why.



1. Lack of objectivity.


We don’t view our lives from an unbiased perspective. We’re too close to our stories to see them clearly. We have too much information, too many stories and memories. We may undervalue or overvalue certain events. If we write from this perspective, it can lead to books that go into too much detail about the wrong things or not enough about the right ones, if they get written at all.

How to gain objectivity when writing your memoir?

  1. Seek feedback from trusted friends, family members, or writing groups.

  2. Ask them to point out areas where you may be too close to the material.

  3. Be open to constructive criticism and alternative perspectives.

  4. Practice stepping back and viewing your experiences as an outside observer.

  5. Identify and acknowledge your biases upfront.


2. Revisiting traumatic or painful memories.


It’s not easy to do and yet such memories can lead to powerful books. I had years of experience helping New York City teenagers write about painful experiences—poverty, racism, violence, living in foster care, etc. Although not all memoirs are about trauma, most of them touch on some difficult emotional material. I know when to push on certain topics and when not to, and how the writing process itself can help authors come to terms with the past. 

How to tackle past traumas when writing your memoir?

  1. Pace yourself and don't try to tackle the most difficult material all at once.

  2. Consider seeking support from a trusted friend or mentor.

  3. Establish a supportive network of friends or a writing group.

  4. Practice self-care strategies, such as journaling, meditation, or exercise.



3. Self-doubt.


You may worry that your story is not interesting or important enough to be shared. There’s a quote from Hemingway I love: “Any man’s life, told truly, is a novel.” I’ve changed that a bit to say, “Any person’s life, told truly, is a memoir.” Most lives are not filled with overly dramatic incidents. But every life—and I know this from 15 years as a writing teacher with teenagers—has important insights and subtle lessons to share, if probed with enough skill and depth.

How do we overcome self doubt when writing a memoir?

  1. Recognize that your unique perspective and experiences hold inherent value.

  2. Seek out memoirs that resonate with you and let them inspire you.

  3. Start small, by writing about specific events or moments that hold significance.

  4. Celebrate your writing successes, no matter how minor they may seem.



4. Difficulty in structuring your story.


It can be hard to know how to organize your memories and experiences into a coherent narrative. A writing teacher explained it this way: if you get lost, you keep writing to find your way out. But that’s a little like rowing on the ocean. You’ve lost sight of land in all directions and more rowing won’t get you home. Instead, finding the right structure at the start for your memoir can provide a map that organizes your experience around a central theme. Finding the right structure on your own can be challenging, but a ghostwriter can show the way.

How to structure a memoir?

  1. Identify the central theme or message you want your memoir to convey.

  2. Experiment with different organizational strategies (chronological, thematic, etc.)

  3. Create an outline or timeline to help organize your thoughts and memories.

  4. Consider using writing prompts or exercises to explore different angles.

  5. Be open to restructuring and reorganizing as you write and gain clarity.


Hiring a Ghostwriter.


While the path to writing a memoir is undoubtedly challenging, you don't have to walk it alone. For those who find the hurdles too daunting or are struggling to make progress, enlisting the help of a ghostwriter can be an invaluable solution.

A skilled ghostwriter brings objectivity, experience in handling sensitive material, strategies for overcoming self-doubt, and expertise in crafting a cohesive narrative structure.

With a ghostwriter as your guide, you can navigate the labyrinth of your memories more effectively. He or she can help you identify the most compelling aspects of your story, provide accountability and motivation, and transform your raw experiences into a polished, powerful memoir.

Collaborating with a ghostwriter allows you to focus on sharing your authentic voice and truth, while they handle the intricate literary demands of shaping your life's journey into a captivating read.


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