If you’re thinking about writing your memoir but facing a blank page, I have a few great memoir writing prompts that will get you writing TODAY. Let’s do this! ⚡️
Writer’s Block? Nah!
Creative writing prompts are useful tools for unlocking memories so you can get your life stories onto the page. I have a deep respect for the creative process, and I’m a fan of creative writing prompts because they work. They’re a diving board into your memories, helping to unlock past experiences you may have forgotten. If you struggle with writer’s block, memoir prompts are more like the well-meaning swim coach that gives you a purposeful nudge, right into the water. Once you’re in, you’re in! 🏊🏻♀️
Writing is an intuitive process, and this is especially true for memoir. It can be helpful to think about specific memories or moments in your life that were particularly meaningful to you. Other times, it can be helpful to focus on a specific theme or area of your life that you would like to explore in your writing. Don’t be surprised if you end up pivoting in a different direction, too. If you stay open, the story you are meant to write will reveal itself to you (this might sound silly, but it’s been true for me and all the books I’ve written).
Creative writing prompts can be a warm-up to the actual writing, or the writing itself. You can decide the shape of your memoir once you know what you’re writing about and have generated enough material that can serve as the foundation of your memoir. You can smooth your prose and make everything cohere into a memoir everyone will want to read. 🤗
But right now? Get writing.
Using Creative Writing Prompts
Creative writing prompts and writing exercises that help you write your memoir by providing structure and ideas to get you started. They offer simple but thoughtful questions to help you excavate the stories that are wanting to be discovered. ⛏
Prompts can be as simple as asking you to describe a significant event in your life, or they can be open-ended, like asking you to write about a specific theme or feeling. Sometimes you’ll end up writing about something completely different than the memoir prompt, and that’s okay. Trust wherever it takes you.
The more writing you do, the more memories will get unlocked. Not only that, but a little bit of writing each day adds up to a lot of writing if you just keep going. And as an added bonus, you’ll be developing your writing skills with each prompt you write. 🏋🏻♀️
Memoirs are a great way to share your life story with the world. These prompts will help you get the most out of your writing and get your creative juices flowing.
Why Memoir Writing Matters
Memoir writing as a creative process that serves the writer and ultimately the reader. 🤓
For the writer, writing our personal narratives is a way to remember and process our own life experiences, to help us understand the significant events of our lives that helped shaped who we are. Writing these stories down can be a source of comfort and healing, providing a space to reflect on our past and make sense of our present. They offer a creative outlet for exploring our thoughts, feelings, and memories, and are a great way to connect with our past selves.
For the reader, memoirs can be a source of inspiration for others, offering a glimpse into someone else’s life and providing hope, motivation, and insight. I’ve always viewed memoir as proof that we’re not alone, that others have been through similar experiences and can relate to us. Great stories help us appreciate what we have in the present moment, and offer compassion for ourselves and others.
What are Some Good Memoir Topics to Write About?
Unless you already know what you want to write about in a memoir, and it can be difficult to know where to start. 🤷🏻♀️
Some good topics include your childhood, your family and friends, your education and career, your hobbies and interests, and any significant life events. These topics can also be used as creative writing prompts to help you get started on writing your memoir, even if you plan to focus on something different.
Most memoirs have a specific theme. Check out this free printable list of 125 themes from my book, Writing the Hawaiʻi Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story (Watermark Publishing).
Memoir Prompt Writing Tips
Before you begin, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Be honest and raw
Be honest with yourself and your writing. Don’t worry about putting on a show or looking perfect. Don’t start changing family members’ names because you’re worried they’ll get mad. Remember that no one is going to see your work at this stage unless you show it to them.
Experienced memoir writers know it takes many drafts to get to a polished manuscript, but you have to start at the beginning, and beginnings are usually pretty messy. Give yourself permission to write without any inhibitions — no censoring of your words or thoughts. Just get it down, and then decide what to do with it once you’re finished. If you really hate it or feel horribly embarrassed, you can always toss it out. But you probably won’t. 😉
Write by hand
When it comes to writing prompts, I’m a strong proponent of writing by hand. Before you panic, you’ll only be doing this for ten minutes (see below), and there’s a connection that’s made between the brain and the page when you write by hand. I do most of my writing on my computer — I’m a fast typist and a fast thinker, so I prefer to have my fingers on the keyboard … except when I’m responding to a prompt. Something important happens when we write by hand, and it gets missed when we’re on the computer or on our phones.
If you’re not convinced, try it for one week and see what happens. 👋🏼
Establish a daily writing practice
When you decide you’re going to write, a daily practice helps keep you on track. Have a writing process in place ensures that you get the writing done, and with each day that passes, you become a better writer.
Some memoir writers swear by Julia Cameron’s morning pages, which I love but don’t always have the time to do. My recommendation is to set the bar low — begin with writing ten minutes a day. Choose a prompt, set the timer, and keep your hand moving (thank you, Natalie Goldberg). When the timer goes off, stop.You can spend another 10 minutes revising and reshaping the work, or you can put it aside to rest.
If you do this daily, you’ll have 365 individual vignettes by the end of the year (366 if it’s a leap year). Whether you choose to use them in your memoir is up to you, but these are excellent starting points and you’ll usually find some gems in there, which you can submit individually to literary magazines or string together into a collection of personal essays or narratives.
The most important thing is to write, and write daily. 📆The most important thing is to write, and write daily. Click To Tweet
Tell a story and give us details
Every memoir tells a specific story the writers wants to share. Memoirs are not a recounting of every fact or statistic of your entire life like an autobiography or biography, but a glimpse into a particular moment.
I like to use the example of a photograph — sometimes what is outside the frame is just as important as what’s inside the frame. Use sensory details to bring us in the moment with you. What’s happening?
When you’re ready, and once you’ve selected the pieces you want to spend time on, you can revise your work. This will give you a chance to do a deeper dive into whatever it is that want to say, and shape the work for a reader. But again, you don’t have to worry about that now, just be assured that you can “fix” whatever you need to fix, later. 👩🏻🔧
Memoir Writing Prompts & Ideas
Let’s get started! Use the following memoir prompts to get your creativity flowing. These open-ended prompts are very flexible so choose at random, switch them up, make them yours. Use them as a starting point, trust the process, and GO. 🏃🏻♀️
- The Alphabet Autobiography (similar to the abecedarian poetic form). You’ll write one sentence of line for each letter of the alphabet, from A to Z. Start with the letter A, and think about something (or someone) in your life that begins with A. It doesn’t have to “important” — don’t overthink it. Go with whatever comes up first, and keep going until you reach the end of the alphabet.
- Write about a family heirloom.
- What were the cartoon characters of your childhood, and which one did you identify with?
- Write about your first best friend.
- Not everyone has owned a pet, but we all have animal companions in some form. Think stuffed animal, class pet, a totem animal. Write about the first one that comes to mind.
- Write about a favorite teacher.
- What’s the first thing you did this morning?
- Have you ever had a near-death experience?
- Write about your first love.
- What was the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in high school?
- What is the best memory you have of a place you traveled to?
- When was the last time you saw a relative you don’t know very well? Tell us what you think about them. How are they related to you?
- Tell us about your favorite article of clothing. Where did you get it, why do you love it, what does it say about you?
- What was the first thing you ever bought yourself?
- What is your favorite gift you’ve ever given (or received)?
- Who do you love to spend time with? Why?
- Think of a time you lied.
- Think of a time when you stole something.
- Think of a time when you laughed so hard, you cried.
- Think of a time when you felt triumphant.
- Think of a time when you were completely and utterly in love.
- What was the worst day of your life?
- What’s your favorite season? Why?
- What’s your favorite holiday? Why?
- When you were the happiest you’ve ever been?
- When you were the saddest you’ve ever been?
- What is one of your most vivid memories of your parents?
- When was the last time you felt jealous?
- Write about a random act of kindness someone did for you.
- What is your favorite smell?
- Write about your name. What does it mean? Do you have a nickname? Does it suit you?
- What is something no one knows about you?
- Tell us a recipe that you make by heart. How did you learn it? How often do you make it?
- Did you have a comfort object growing up? What was it, and when did you need it?
- Write about a recurring dream.
- When you look in the mirror, what feature do you notice first? Write about that.
- What was the first place you ever traveled to?
- How has your worldview changed since you were a child?
- What was your first car?
- When was the last time you went swimming?
- What’s a job would you would love to do?
- How many siblings do you have, and what are their names?
- Tell us about your favorite kind of sandwich.
- Write about your scars.
- What’s your go-to cocktail?
- How many times have you moved in your life?
- Describe the house you grew up in.
- How many tattoos and piercings do you have, and why did you get them?
- Write about the last time you were in nature, and what happened.
- Write about a camping trip.