Write Your Memoir: A Workshop

Have you ever thought about writing your memoir? I talk to a lot of people who like the idea of writing their life story, but for understandable reasons, many never quite get round to it. In my practical workshop I hope to inspire you to get started with writing your memoir…and to keep going. The session aims to give you the tools and motivation you need to turn the events and adventures that have shaped your life into a book. I am a Cambridge-trained biographer and an experienced public speaker, and I will lead the session, taking you through thought-provoking exercises to generate ideas, to trigger old memories and to sketch out a potential chapter outline.

At the start of my ‘Write Your Memoir’ workshop, I normally talk a bit about how I got into helping people write their memoirs, and share some of my experiences as a ghostwriter. But the body of the workshop is very hands on. A lot of people who are interested in writing their life stories doubt whether they have enough material to write a book. They almost always do, but they need some advice and some tools to unlock old memories. I have designed a series of exercises that help them do this. The workshop consists of some brainstorming as individuals, and also some pair and group work. Typical exercises would ask participants to do the following:

Before writing a memoir, a person needs to have an outline structure for the book. Take 5 minutes to brainstorm what this might look like. What would your chapter headings be? What are the key phases of your life that you would want to cover? We then have a group discussion of what people have written down.

Imagine you have been invited to be a guest on Desert Island Discs. What tracks would you choose, and why? Take 5 minutes to have a think, and then discuss your choices in groups of three. (I would then ask for volunteers to share their choices with the whole group, and ask what forgotten memories the exercise provoked).

School is such a formative phase in any individual’s life. Take 5 minutes to brainstorm your memories of school, then share some of the things you remembered in small groups. Do you remember your first day? Do you remember any incidents where you were particularly naughty, or wrongfully punished? Who were your friends? Which teachers do you remember, and why? What were your favourite subjects? What was the food like at school?

Thinking about your reader! A successful author has her reader in mind at all times. Take a look at the following biographies (books circulated). Read the ‘blurbs’ (book descriptions) on the back covers. What makes them sound appealing? Then have a think about what the ‘blurb’ of your life story might include. What are the highlights? Take 5 minutes to have a go at writing your blurb.

I hope these examples give you a flavour of the kind of thing the workshop covers. I try to mix up the format throughout the session to keep people engaged, so there are some parts where I talk, other parts where people work individually, and other parts where there is group discussion.

For some people, coming to the workshop is all it takes to kickstart their memoir-writing project. Further down the line, when the client has finished their manuscript, they sometimes get in touch with me asking for a fresh pair of eyes on their work. I offer a range of book editing services. I love working as a book doctor for clients, helping them to make their work the best it can be. For others, the workshop makes them realise that they really want to record their life story, but they prefer to hire a ghostwriter. I can help with this too. When a client decides to engage me as a ghostwriter, they tell me their story over a series of three or four sessions, I record our conversations and then turn these recordings into a life story book, taking out any repetition and deviation, to make the memoir as compelling as possible. Working as a ghostwriter is a real privilege. I never tire of hearing a new story. And I get to meet people from all different walks of life. Each life story reminds me what different lived experiences we all have as we make our way in the world. As clients reflect back over their lives, I love hearing what they have made of it all – the good, the bad and the ugly. At the end of the day, little beats the satisfaction of knowing that I have done a good job, when an email from a client pops into my inbox, telling me that they are chuffed to bits with their memoir.

Do get in touch if you or your organisation would like to host a ‘Write Your Memoir’ workshop, or if you would like to hire a ghostwriter. I offer a range of writing services, be it simply advice on writing a book, or book editing services or working as a ghostwriter.