February 23, 2024

Three Stages of Memoir Writing



When you write a memoir, the journey will change you. There is no way that we can encounter art, the imagination, and our inner psyches without being changed by the experience. And just like any journey, it shifts our perspective on life and on ourselves. You will not be the same person who began the journey.


As poet T. S. Eliot wrote in his wonderful poem “Four Quartets”

You are not the same people who left that station

Or who will arrive at any terminus.


The first Stage: Getting Started and Being In the Flow

When you begin your journey, you’re excited about telling the tales, recounting your memories, and figuring out what happened when. You’re eager to get those scenes on the page, pleased to recall the details of your grandmother’s garden, the vacation that went awry, the time you saw the constellations from on top of a mountain. During this stage, you’re “downloading” your memories, getting them out as fast as you can. Those first utterances of your stories will be messy; they will be emotionally raw.

You have to give yourself permission for that messy first draft, which Anne Lamott famously calls the “shitty first draft.” New truths are revealed, we get to know our story and ourselves more, and we begin to see the plot emerge.

The Second Stage: The Muddy Middle

During your memoir journey you’ll wind through a labyrinth all the way to the heart of family, to the complex circumstances of your life and  your buried memories and secrets.

You may be tempted to turn away from these challenging issues, wondering if you should have begun at all. This is a sign that you’re in the muddy middle of your memoir. You find yourself procrastinating, finding other things to do instead of write when early on you were eager. Suddenly you are too busy to write.

In the muddy middle you discover:

  • Body memories and new memories
  • The Shadow–secrets, guilt and shame
  • Inner critic–why bother, doubt–you don’t write very well
  • Outer critics–you’re just navel gazing, writing your story is narcissistic
  • Time bandits & procrastination

And good stuff too:

  • Your voice and your right to tell your story
  • The True Self that becomes the through emotional line in the story
  • Your creativity
  • Healing and new perspectives


Stage Three: Top of the Mountain

Now that you’ve made your way through the muddy middle, stand back and see the big picture. You can see where you’re going. You have been climbing, meandering, and getting lost on switchbacks, but finally you have reached the mountain top where—voila!—you can see in all directions. You’ve muddled through the middle and gathered many dozens of stories, some positive, some humorous, and even some darker stories, and you’ve learned to respect and listen to your voice.

  • You know many of the stories you want to tell, and you have written at least a first draft.
  • You understand through experience what it means to flip through the memory banks, to confront your truths and memories. You understand the process of writing a memoir more than you did when you set out.
  • The layers of your life and memories are clearer, and you probably have a glimpse of the later stages of the memoir.
  • You have been learning how to write—the ways that language works, how sentences and paragraphs build into chapters.
  • You have been building your strengths and insights that will help you finish your memoir.


Now that you know the stages of your memoir–where are you now?

What do you need to do to get to “The End?” Brooke and I are here to help!


Photo uploaded from Flickr–thanks to ilgiovaneWalter (Sobchak)

About Linda Joy Myers


  1. Just wow, Very straightforward. thank you so much.

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