How to Write Memoir So They Don’t Read It, They LIVE It.

Put readers in your skin. Let them live your life.

Cyndy Etler | Teen Coach | Author


A human hand raised into the air as the human faces an unwinding roller coaster ride.
Photo by Kent Weitkamp on Unsplash

Right. So you’re memoir-motivated. You’ve lived through something intense, something different, and readers will find it fascinating. You’re off to a great start with that hella-interesting story, but you’ve got to keep your readers riveted with your writing style. How you gonna do that?

Well, pop quiz. Which is more exciting: riding a rollercoaster, or watching someone else ride a rollercoaster? Yeah, duh. Same principle. To keep readers glued to the page, you write so they’re living the rollercoaster, not watching it. Here’s how.

Relive the experience yourself.

If your readers are going to put themselves in your skin and live your experiences, you need to be hyper-conscious of what those experiences looked, felt and sounded like before you write them. Starting with a list of the memories you plan to write about (more on how to develop that list here), you’re going to immerse yourself into those events, to bring back all the feels. To do that, your brain’s gotta open its doors and let you roam around. To get your brain’s consent, you need to make your brain feel safe. Phew. We’re going deep today.

So. To get access to those memories:

  • Isolate yourself completely. Get up at 4:30 a.m. Wear noise-cancelling headphones. Make sure nobody can see you.
  • Lean back, close your eyes, and mentally bring up the event. It’s in there. Let it surface.
  • Bathe in the details of the memory. Let yourself remember exactly what happened, what it looked like, who said what, how you felt.

If this is a struggle, write yourself a list of grit-level questions about the sensory details of the event. These questions will work like a Google search, telling your brain what to look for. A friend reached out to me for help recovering the details of her school bus bullying. I wrote her a list of questions; you can use it as a model. My list went like this:

  • What did the bus’s door look like as you stepped up to it? How steep was that first step? What did you look at when you got on the bus? What seat did you choose? Why? What did the…



Cyndy Etler | Teen Coach | Author

Locked up & homeless as a teen. Now teaching resiliency & hope with my YA memoirs & teen coaching. Seen on CNN, HuffPost, NPR, CBS, ABC.