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Stories To Tell is a full service book publishing company for independent authors. We provide editing, design, publishing, and marketing of fiction and non-fiction. We specialize in sophisticated, unique illustrated book design.

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Do I Need to Keep a Journal to Write a Memoir?

Nan Barnes

A lot of “how-to” articles advising people who want to write memoirs tell them to begin with by keeping a journal. That’s reasonable advice as far as it goes. But a little explanation of what a journal is and why it’s useful for a memoir writer is often missing from the article.

First, a journal is not a rough draft of a memoir. It is what writing theorists call "prewriting". You write regularly (ideally every day) on whatever comes to mind without self-editing or censoring ideas. The purpose is to capture your thoughts and gather ideas. A journal is a notebook for you to jot down things that flash across your mind. Some entries may recount events others note topics for later reflection. A journal is often fragmentary rather than being a finished piece of writing.

A memoir, on the other hand, is developed by looking back upon what has happened and how you felt about it. It is a process of reflecting on events, the emotions they triggered and the lessons they taught. A well written memoir is carefully planned. You select those slices of life which seem most important and look for the insights they provide. A good memoir may draw on many of the techniques of fiction to tell its story.

It is important that you understand that a journal is only one of the types of prewriting that you might use to help create a memoir. There are a variety of other writing exercises that help generate the stories and ideas you will ultimately incorporate into the finished memoir.