August 12, 2022

Research and Memoir

Research is directly linked to truth in memoir. Many memoirists feel they need more facts in order to start; in order to keep going; in order to finish. I have worked with writers who are convinced they need to interview family members to get their take on what really happened. I have worked with writers who have decided they can’t or won’t write until they find that one particular journal (which they can’t find, of course) that captures the essence of 1973 in all its intensity. I have worked with writers who, when they come across something that should be verified, jump out of the Word document they’re working in and Google Google Google until they find what they’re looking for.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the above scenarios. We might call these writers conscientious even. However, research can and will get in the way of your writing. If and when it’s a distraction or an impediment to your progress, you must implement a research strategy. There is a time and a place for it. If you’re writing a memoir of your family history, starting from before you were born, you might want to do your research at the very beginning of your memoir journey. But for almost anything else, research can wait until after your first draft.

I encourage writers to make use of the TK. TK is an editorial term that means “To Come.” Highlight your TKs and come back to them later. If you can get into this practice, you’ll stop using research as an avoidance strategy or a reason to procrastinate. And, importantly for memoirists, you must know that your memoir is your truth. No amount of research will ever make your memoir 100% objective. It’s your story, and there will be people in your life who remember what happened differently. If this aspect of memoir-writing makes you uncomfortable, you will need to find a way to make peace with “your truth” in order to finish and publish. And have faith, because a good disclaimer exists to protect you.


  1. Too many writers assume that because they’re writing memoir no research is necessary. WRONG! When we were writing 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, our memoir of living and working in Japan while building the Universal Studios Theme Park in Osaka, we did a great deal of research. We corroborated our memories with others who were also there, checked the names and locations, and Googled the minutia. Why do writers of memoir think they don’t have to research anything? Boggles the mind!

    • Brooke Warner says

      Good question, Lorna. Even coming-of-age memoir probably requires some research. I can think of a handful of memoirs that don’t require too much, but I think it’s totally right that you want to get it accurate when you’re doing a memoir like the one you wrote! Not only does it make the book a better read, it makes you a more credible author too.



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