How to Get Paid Writing Memoirs

Many memoirs are written for personal satisfaction and often appear as books of less than one hundred pages distributed to a small number of family and friends. Often, no more that twenty-five books of a memoir like this are printed. There is no intention the memoir will become a best seller.

You can get paid writing these kinds of memoirs.

How to Get Clients
Let people know you are available to write memoirs. Create a website and a blog; print and hand out business cards; print and hand out ballpoint pens with your name, telephone number, and Web addresses; create your professional profile on Google, Yahoo!, and Linkedin; join a local or state writers’ club and become actively involved in their activities; be available to speak to organizations and professional groups.

Consider writing your first memoir for free for a family member or friend, then use the book as an example of your work.

What to Charge
You should charge a fee that best represents your skills and expertise. Determine what hourly wage you are prepared to work for. This could be $50, $100 or more. I have seen memoir writers charge $300 per hour. Turn your hourly rate into the total cost you will quote a client. It is not uncommon for memoir writers to charge $5,000, $10,000, or $50,000 for a project.

Offer your client a written contract that spells out what you will do and what the client will do. View a sample contract here.

Interviewing and Writing
Set up a series of interviews with your client. These could be sixty to ninety minutes each once a week for several weeks. Get a digital voice recorder for the interviews. After you have transcribed each interview (I prefer to pay someone to transcribe so I can concentrate on writing), you should edit, rewrite, and arrange the manuscript so events appear in a logical sequence and the finished manuscript sounds like the author. The editing and writing will take approximately ten times longer to finish than the interviews.

Present the final manuscript to your client. I prefer to put the manuscript on a CD rather than print out the pages. Your manuscript should have a contents page, page numbers, and chapter headings.

Producing a Book
Make a separate agreement for preparing the manuscript to become a book. I use ten percent of the interviewing and writing fees as an initial guide.

Producing a book involves finding a short-run printer, often called an on-demand printer; exchanging emails and telephone calls with the printer; determining the cover art and the appearance of the inside pages; proofreading; and printing and delivery of the finished books. The client pays for each of these services and pays you to facilitate their completion.

Here is wishing you the best of success with many happy clients.

File photo.

Denis Ledoux: Create Better Lifestories With Action

Guest article by Denis Ledoux
Denis Ledoux

Action drives your story and keeps your readers interested. Writing with effective action is the key to creating better lifestories.

1) The action of your story is its plot. Generally speaking, something must happen in your story to retain the interest of your reader. Some people have had roles in the political, economic, cultural life of their times. These people's lives exhibit an external drama. They, just like those of us who have not had these roles, must find a way to convey their stories in a way that has internal rather than merely external drama.

The amount of action necessary to retain interest varies enormously according to the sensibility and the education of different readers. Someone who prefers reading about ghosts and unpredictable supernatural occurrences will not find the English psychological novelist Virginia Woolf very interesting. But it remains true that readers--both of pulp fiction and of serious writing--need some sort of action to move the story along. Although much of Virginia Woolf's action is internalized, it counts as plot nonetheless.

2) The action of a story should start in the middle of things. If you are writing about the time you got fired from a job, don't start with the first vocational aptitude test you took in high school. Instead, start when you are given a warning by a supervisor and get to the unhappy conclusion. Only with this sort of quick pacing will you keep the interest of the reader.

3) Explanations and background material are best given briefly, often preferably in phrases. Avoid the lengthy, informational flashback. Providing too much context can overwhelm your story and dissipate the energy of the action.

Avoid writing something like: Groveton, an industrial city founded in 1809 and having a large population of Slovaks who started coming in 1892, Hungarians who first migrated in 1896, Byelorussian who arrived in 1899, the Greeks whose numbers swelled after 1901, and Armenians who arrived around 1909, was the birthplace of my father.

4) To heighten the drama of your story, place your action in a context of historical movements. If you were the first woman in your family to get your own bank loan, you might mention how banks nationally were reacting to the phenomenon of two-worker families and responding to the realities of couples having separate financial lives. You might include how you were not raised to take responsibility for your own financial life and you might mention how others reacted. In so doing, you have created a panorama of a historical movement. You have created a larger context for your story, a situation that is peopled by an Everywoman!

By utilizing these tips you will be able to write a story with an action-driven plot capable of catching your reader's interest—and keeping it. Action is the key to better writing.

Good luck with your writing!

Denis Ledoux is an author and founder of Soleil Lifestory Network which certifies persons to teach memoir writing. Photo courtesy Denis Ledoux.

Confederate Girlhoods: New History of Springfield, Missouri from the Perspective of Women

Book Review
Confederate Girlhoods: A Women's History of Early Springfield, Missouri
Edited by Craig A. Meyer, with Casey D. White, Adam C. Veile, and Amber V. Luce
Moon City Press, 2010
Softcover, 396 pages with appendices and index


For the most part, history is written by men and about men. It was refreshing and enlightening for me to participate in a roundtable discussion at the Carnegie Midtown Library, Springfield, Missouri of a new book about a history of Springfield written from the perspective of women.

The book, Confederate Girlhoods: A Women’s History of Early Springfield, Missouri, was published by Moon City Press, part of the English Department at Missouri State University. It brings together in one volume many of the letters, memoirs, family histories, stories, journals, photographs, and newspaper clippings in the Campbell-McCammon Collection at The History Museum for Springfield-Greene County.

Springfield founder John Polk Campbell came to southwest Missouri from Tennessee in 1825 to expand his family’s mule and horse trading business. The Campbells were slave owners who were staunch supporters of the Confederacy during the Civil War. John Purdue McCammon came to Springfield from an Iowa farm family in 1879 and became a prominent attorney and founded an insurance company.

The correspondence and stories of the Campbell-McCammon women reveal their “struggles, disappointments, joys, courage, determination, and sorrow,” writes Greene County Associate Commissioner Roseann Bentley in her foreword to the book. At a time when about the only things available to women were teaching, marriage, and writing the women stood resolutely for temperance, preservation of historical places, education, business opportunities, dignity and honor for the dead, entrepreneurship, and improving the lives of women.

Among their achievements: They were founding members of the Ladies Saturday Club, which is still in existence and is the oldest federated women’s club west of the Mississippi River; led the effort for reburial of Confederate soldiers in National Cemetery; were leaders in establishing Hazelwood Cemetery; and they donated land for what is today Jarrett Middle School. Louisa Campbell sewed medicines into her petticoat and smuggled them to Confederate soldiers after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The Campbell homestead became a hospital where Campbell women and young girls cared for Confederate and Union wounded and dying. All of this and much more were separate from their daily heroism to just survive in frontier America.

Primary editor Craig A. Meyer, a graduate of the English Department of Missouri State University and a doctoral candidate at Ohio University, worked with twenty other editors, transcribers, and compilers over a period of four years to bring the Campbell-McCammon materials to publication. Although The History Museum for Springfield-Greene County has done its best to preserve the original materials since they were donated by Lucy McCammon in 1990, some deterioration has occurred. The materials are now in archival appropriate sleeves, folders, and boxes and many have been digitized.

It is a great service to researchers and to those with a casual interest in history—as well as a tribute to the legacy of the Campbell-McCammon families—that the materials have a new life and a new audience in this book. It is unfortunate that similar materials, by men or women, regarding Springfield in the Civil War era are not available from a Union perspective. There are Union materials in the library at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, but they originated elsewhere, many in St. Louis.

The release of the book this month puts Moon City Press squarely onto the playing field for observances in 2011 of the one hundred fiftieth year since the start of the Civil War.

Photo: Some participants in the roundtable discussion. Left to right: Joan Hampton-Porter, James Baumlin, Craig A. Meyer, Pat Pike. Photo by Wayne Groner.

Genealogy in Memoirs Can Be Tricky

There is a distinct difference between genealogies and memoirs, although they can be used together effectively to create a much more informed book. Memoirs lean heavily on storytelling, where genealogies lean heavily on dates and official records.

I prefer storytelling to a lot of genealogy. Genealogy searches can go on forever
(theoretically they will take you back to Adam and Eve). Unless you really know what you’re doing, or can find someone who does, my advice is to steer clear of a heavy reliance on genealogy in your memoirs and stick to telling stories. Stories are much more readable and much more fun. I know, there are those who disagree with me on that.

Researching can be a crutch
Then, too, you can get caught up in the process of research and think you’re doing a great job, when in reality you may be putting off writing stories that matter. I was in the home of person who showed me her office that was piled from floor to ceiling on three walls with cardboard boxes filled with thousands of notes on her family. Her desk and computer were against the other wall. She never got to actually writing her family memoirs.

A distant cousin of my wife, along with his wife, spent thirty years assembling and writing stories and genealogies of my wife’s family. The finished hardcover book, size 8.5 inches by 11 inches, is a well-done work of more than 463 pages, plus 47 pages of appendices and an index. There are tidbits of insights into the lives of persons listed and a few short stories—as well as lots of photos which are fun to look at—but for the most part it’s a genealogical listing and copying of official records of just about everyone in the family from 1756 to today. Don’t get me wrong; we are thrilled to have this fabulous and complete family record. If you use genealogies in your memoirs consider using them sparingly.

I recently helped a man write his memoirs that included some genealogies and lots of photos and stories. The finished hardcover book, size 8.5 inches by 11 inches, has only 67 pages, including four pages of blank family record sheets and note pages for other family members to start their own searches. There are ten major family headings in the book in which we followed only the genealogical lines of the author’s direct predecessors. We listed others, but we only touched on them briefly, choosing instead to focus on his direct links to the past and on stories more than genealogy.

Where to get more information
There are too-many-to-count books, libraries and websites where you can get information on searching genealogies. An excellent place to start is the Midwest Genealogy Center, Independence, Missouri, part of the Mid-Continent Public Library. Information on its many free services are at www.mymcpl.org/genealogy.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints arguably has the world’s most extensive collection of genealogies. Besides its Family Center Library in Salt Lake City, Utah there are Family History Centers throughout the world. More at www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp.

Also check with your local librarian, bookstore, or online bookstore for other resources. Type the word genealogy into your computer’s browser field.

Final thought: Don’t become overwhelmed by the process of genealogy. You’ll have a lot more fun telling stories.

Photo: Midwest Genealogy Center main atrium. Courtesy Charvex.

Linda Spence: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History

Book Review: Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History
Linda Spence
Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1977
155 pages

“This is a book waiting to become your story,” writes Linda Spence in her book, Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History.

She then goes on to show you how. Not with fancy words, out-of-touch theories, and dreary writing exercises; but with down-to-earth, practical, anyone-can-do it guidelines and examples. She debunks every myth you’ve ever heard about writing your life story and walks you through the storytelling process simply, clearly, efficiently, and effectively.

Fear of writing is swept away by her calm assurance that you are preparing a gift for your children, grandchildren, and friends. No need to concentrate on whether the story of your life will be an international best seller. Instead, think of the stories of your life that were fun or interesting for you and that helped form who you are.

She divides thinking about your stories into nine easy-to-read sections: Beginnings and Childhood, Adolescence, Early Adult Years, Marriage, Being a Parent, Middle Adult Years, Being a Grandparent, Later Adult Years, Reflections. Each section begins with a few brief paragraphs on what happened in her life during that period, with plenty of quotes from her family members to reveal she is an ordinary person, just like you. The kicker, though, is what comes next: after the brief paragraphs, she lists a series of questions and thought starters to get your remembrance juices going. There are more than 400 questions throughout the book. Here are some of them:

Where did you live during your childhood and who lived with you?
Tell about the animals you loved as a child.
What are some of your summertime memories?
What were you involved in at school other than classes?
Tell about your first crush.
What was the most trouble you found yourself in as a teenager?
What were the significant milestones in your career or personal life in your twenties and thirties?
What was it like for you to leave home?
What organizations were you interested in?
Tell about your courtship.
What were some adjustments you made in your married life?
Describe some common interests and their contribution to your marriage.
What rivalries and alliances developed among your children?
Who were your neighbors and how did your lives touch?
In what ways did you continue to increase your knowledge and skills?
Have you saved anything from your past that your grandchildren now enjoy?
Tell something encouraging about each grandchild.
How is your life different today from how you thought it would be?
Who are the people providing the most satisfying companionship to you now?
Tell a story from your life that you’ve never told before.
In what ways would you say life today is more satisfying than in the days when your parents were your age?
Why did you choose the jobs you had and how did you get them?
What have you fought for in your life?

I highly recommend this book in my monthly classes on writing memoirs. You can get a copy from any bookstore, online, or at your local library.

Linda Spence writes and collects legacy stories in Mill Valley, California, where she lives and works as a consultant.

Cover image courtesy Shallow Press/Ohio University Press.

Justine Kuntz: A 20-page Memoir Can Be a Treasured Gift

Guest article by Justine Kuntz

Justine Kuntz
My friend Nancy and I wrote a memoir of her husband Tony, although he was a reluctant participant. Tony had been captured in Africa during World War II. He spent 14 months as a wounded soldier in an Italian prison camp and then in two German prison camps. He was discharged from the U.S. Army totally disabled.

I had heard some of his stories and asked whether we could write about them together. Although he was a great storyteller, he always refused by saying, “They’re too painful to talk about.” However, he repeatedly told certain ones to Nancy and a few to my husband and me and friends over dinner after he had a glass or two of wine. The stories never changed and needed to be written for his grandsons, if for no one else.

A memoir takes shape
Nancy and I crafted a 20-page memoir with some of his war photos and an appendix of World War II information I found on the Internet. Tony’s 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division has a site which provides a brief history and made a perfect foreword for his memoir. Plus, the Red Cross has online debriefings from their inspections of German prison camps. These provided the “official story” of prison conditions. Tony’s stories provide the “real” conditions and how methods were contrived to present the “official” condition unbeknown to the International Red Cross during their inspections.

Nancy and I walked the beach each Saturday morning and discussed the stories I had written from memory that week. I also gave her a list of questions to casually ask Tony at their leisure. These conversations usually took place as they read the newspaper over breakfast and commented on global events. This time was a natural opportunity for brief discussion that provided the memoir details and often set him to reminiscing further. She would say, “When you were in …” and this or that happened. “Tell me again, why did...” Inadvertently, he provided the details and sometimes enough detail to begin a new story. Some stories ran only one paragraph. We arranged them chronologically and separated them by lines of asterisks.

Nancy framed his medals, ten of them, in a shadow box. She had sent for them years earlier through the Army but never had done anything with them. I found a website explaining the significance of the ribbons and medals displayed in the shadow box, including the Purple Heart. We incorporated the information into an appendix along with telegrams, maps, and photographs of prison and his inmates. His parents had kept telegrams from the War Department and from ham radio operators who contacted his parents with information regarding his capture in Africa, his injuries, transport, and locations.

A gift for Tony
We presented the memoir to Tony for his 80th birthday. Six of us sat around the table and cried as he opened the gift; then we all laughed at ourselves crying. Such a memorable occasion! Through tears Tony said, “I knew something was going on but I never expected this.” Although the memoir covers only 18 months, that time controlled the rest of his life and ultimately Nancy’s too. They met when he was in Cushing Army Hospital recovering from his extensive injuries.

Tony proudly gave fifteen copies of his memoir to extended family members. Two great-grandchildren have been added to the family since then. Their father covets the memoir for his children to read about their great-grandfather’s World War II experiences.

Nancy helps others
Some years later in my memoir class, Nancy continued to write her stories of their years after the war. These she sent to siblings as she wrote them. Her classic comments in class were: “One thing I realize after doing only a few stories. Our phone calls are no longer about aches and pains. We laugh and enjoy our childhood all over again as we reminisce. They help me fill in the detail.”

Hers was a different kind of therapy and class members reaped ideas from her insight into the benefits of writing memoirs; another human interest story on mining treasures by writing one’s life stories.

Justine Kuntz teaches memoir writing classes at St. Gregory's Episcopal Church in Boca Raton, Florida. She is a retired teacher of high school English. Photo courtesy Justine Kuntz.

Good Book Design is Essential to a Memorable Memoir

There are many memoir authors who photocopy their typewritten manuscripts, or print them on their personal inkjet printers, or take them to their local copy center, and then staple them together for distribution. These have a tendency to become ragged-edged, torn, and misplaced over the years, mainly because they are not perceived to be of long-lasting value.

You will be better off pursuing the production of a book that looks like a book, either with a soft cover or a hard cover. This kind of a book will maintain a place of honor on a bookshelf or coffee table and is more likely to be shared with others as an important work that the author, family members, and friends are proud to own.

Print-on-demand (POD) companies (see short list below) using digital technologies will easily and affordably print your memoirs that have the look and feel of books produced by major publishing companies. Many POD providers will print as few as ten copies and some have minimums of twenty-five copies. POD services can include whatever you are willing to pay for. The least expensive is when you email to a POD company a manuscript that is ready to be printed. Costs go up when you engage the company to do layout, photo placement, cover design, proofreading and editing, as well as printing and binding.

One option is to hire a professional who will take your typewritten manuscript and lay it out to look like a book (see short list below.) You decide the chapter breaks and chapter headings and the layout person makes it look great. This becomes the layout you email to a POD. You can also do it yourself with Microsoft Word (see short list below.)

Some PODs have online templates for you to design your own front cover and back cover, again at an extra charge. Otherwise, you might be able to engage a local artist who is experienced at book cover designing.

The costs of using a POD are wide-ranging. A general guideline is from $10 per book to $35 per book depending on your choices of soft cover or hard cover, color or black and white, the number of copies printed, and the services you decide on. POD is far less expensive than printing and binding from your home printer or your local copy store.

When you go the POD route, you will have a treasured family heirloom you can be proud of and that will be kept and shared for a long time.

A short list of POD companies

Creative Continuum

Family Heritage Publishers

Family History Publishers

Lulu

Modern Memoirs

My Canvas

No Waste Publishing

Shortrunbooks.com

A short list of manuscript formatting services

Do-it-yourself: How to Lay Out a Book Manuscript in Microsoft Word

Compass Rose Horizons

Fern J. Hill

Integrative Ink

Kleine Editorial Services

Scribendi

Writer’s Relief, Inc.

Photo: An on-demand book printer at the Internet Archive headquarters in San Francisco, California. Printed pages land in this slot, where they are tapped into an even pile by pneumatically actuated tappers on the top, side, and edge of the page. Photo courtesy Dvortygirl.

November is National Family Stories Month


Whatever name you have for the stories of life—personal history, memoir, or biography—now is a great time to start putting the stories of your family into writing because November is National Family Stories Month.

Here are some things you can do:

  1. Check with your local library, writers’ club, college or university on activities that may be planned.

  2. Begin a family newsletter.

  3. Start a personal blog.

  4. Start a family website.

  5. Read or share a book about a favorite person.

  6. Participate in social networking.

  7. Trace your family history. Several free websites will help you do this.

  8. Subscribe to a free genealogy newsletter. An excellent one is by Kimberly Powell at About.com.

  9. Record interviews with elders at senior centers and send the recordings to them and their families.

  10. Bring your scrapbook up to date.

  11. Start that scrapbook you have been putting off doing.

  12. Create an online scrapbook or animated photo album at one of many free websites.

  13. Put together a family recipe book.

  14. Locate family or friends who have drifted away and telephone them.

  15. Assemble a digital photo album; makes a great gift.

  16. Create a short video on your webcam and email it to family members, or transfer the video to a CD and send by postal mail.

  17. Create a PowerPoint slide show of photos and comments and share with family.

  18. Purchase low-cost promotional products with family names imprinted and give to family.

  19. Join a local genealogy club or writers’ group. Your library can help you find one.

  20. Start a journal.

  21. Give journal books with blank pages to family members so they can begin writing their stories.

Thanksgiving is a natural gathering opportunity, so it’s a great time for grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews to get started on their stories. Stories can be goofy, serious, reflective, confessional, and healing. They can be of childhood, adolescence, marriage, work, vacations, immigration, holiday celebrations, and much more.

Children and adults can participate. Children can illustrate their favorite family stories using crayons or colored pencils on plain paper. Add a current flavor with digital photos taken by the children and printed on plain paper. Bind several stories with brad fasteners and a cover of colored construction paper with pictures cut from magazines. What a fun and treasured gift! Adults can use a digital voice recorder, video camera, or pencil and paper.

How do you know what questions to ask? Linda Spence has more than 400 sample questions in her book, Legacy: A Step-by-step Guide to Writing Personal History (Shallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1997). For more great books take a look at my suggested reading list at the top of the links on the right side of this page.

Photo courtesy Dorsey E. Levell from his book, Levell-Drew Family History.

Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective



Governments and corporations have been trying hard in recent years to write laws, instructions and contracts in plain language. Some succeed better than others.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has a free download, “Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective.” While the guidelines are intended for those who write for the needs of CMS audiences, they are an excellent resource for families, friends, community organizations, and memoir writers. The principles for effective communications can apply to any writer for any audience.

The toolkit has a table of contents and eleven parts. They can be downloaded as a complete set or as separate parts. Topics include using a reader-centered approach, guidelines for writing and design including the Web, materials for older adults, and a section of before-and-after examples.

The toolkit includes examples for “brochures and pamphlets, booklets, flyers, fact sheets, posters, bookmarks, application forms, comparison charts, postcards, instruction sheets, and questionnaires.” This is information that can be applied to any type of writing.

The toolkit cautions on using grade-level readability formulas which “are used to measure difficulty of vocabulary and sentences in written materials.” Such formulas tend to be narrow and limiting, the toolkit states.

In the section titled Guidelines for Writing, the toolkit includes how-to-do-it information on what readers want and need to know, using plenty of headings and subheadings, pacing readers, using an active voice, and using a conversational style.

In the section titled Material for Older Adults, the toolkit includes information on how aging affects literacy skills, helping those with vision limitations, and helping those with declining cognitive skills.

Go here to download the toolkit: www.cms.gov/WrittenMaterialsToolkit/

Susan Saunders: Family Stories, Memories, and Alzheimers's: What You Can Do

Susan Saunders
Guest Article by Susan Saunders

When a loved one starts losing family memories, it affects the whole family. Sometimes, the changing stages of Alzheimer’s disease are marked by a renewed interest and focus on preserving family stories, history, and keepsakes, by family members who realize how much stands to be lost to future generations.
If you, or someone you care about, have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, there is really nothing that can be done to restore memory for the one with the disease. That is just the sad and degenerative nature of the condition. There are, however, things that you and your family can do now, that may make it easier to cope with this loss and ensure that some family memories will live on forever.

Share family stories.When family members gather, simply talk about what you remember–about the person with the illness, about your lives together, about the places you’ve lived and the experiences you had.

Turn on a recording device.Just let it run while you share. Record snippets of conversation (even the repetition) with the loved one, too. This is a voice you’ll want to remember.

Take lots of pictures.Be sure to label them digitally with dates, names, and other important notes. These can live for a very long time.

Go through old photos.Instead of watching a movie or TV some evening, how about pulling out those shoeboxes of old photos and going through them together to see what memories they conjure up? Someone take notes, or lightly pencil on the back of the photos, who, when, and where (as much as possible).

Stay in Touch.If family is far flung now, use email, Facebook, and other social sharing tools to set up groups for staying in touch.

Plan a family reunion.Or at least make a point of connecting for the holidays or just a plain old weekend. Make the theme one of storytelling and remembering together. Have everyone bring a favorite picture or two and other family memorabilia.

Organize.Designate a family historian, or a family history team. This responsibility can rotate from time to time, so that no one gets burned out or overwhelmed.
Living with Alzheimer’s in the family is not easy, and the loss of memory and recognition may be one of the hardest things to bear emotionally. Taking steps now to gather and document family history as you know it will at least ensure that your own stories and memories will be preserved as a legacy for future generations.
Photo courtesy Susan Saunders. Contact Susan Saunders at familylinestudios.com.

Free Newsletters by Email Help You Write Your Memoirs

A lot of free information is available to help you write your memoirs. Among the quickest and easiest to use are newsletters sent by email. Written by professionals who have done just what you are doing, the newsletters provide tips for writing, organizing, editing and publishing, as well as encouragement and support to assure you are not alone.

Newsletters can include:
  • Tips to get you started and keep you moving.
  • Motivating articles.
  • Links to other resources.
  • Information on classes and workshops.
  • Methods to make the best use of your time.
  • Tools for better storytelling.
  • Connections with other memoir writers.
  • Techniques that work to unblock stalled thinking.
  • Assistance growing your memoir-writing business.

The following newsletters may include information on memoir writing or on general writing. Some issues are weekly and some are monthly. Some of the resources may offer to sell you services or products.

Compulsive Reader

Dan Curtis

Explore Writing

Extraordinary Lives

Footprints Writing Clubs

Free My Memoir

Grammar and Composition Guide

Jo Parfitt. Free report, “How to Write Your Life Story, The Inside Secrets,” when you subscribe to the newsletter. Scroll to bottom of page.

Kimberly Powell's Genealogy Guide

Laura Davis, Healing Words That Change Lives. Free report, “How to Write a Great First Line,” when you subscribe to the newsletter.

Lifewriter’s Digest

Love to Know Freelance Writing

Meredith Sue Willis. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.

National Association of Memoir Writers. Free report, “Begin Your Memoir Today!” when you subscribe to the newsletter.

Red Room

Sydney Writers’ Centre

The Writer Magazine

White Smoke

Women on Writing

Writer’s Digest

Writing-World. Scroll to bottom of page.


Membership Organizations Provide Support, Learning, and Networking


A great way to keep up with the trends in memoir writing and stay up with new and established methods is to join a membership organization. They have all kinds of free information and you can interact with memoir writers who have been where you are or who are moving along at your pace. Membership can get your memoir-writing juices flowing.

Check with your library for the name and contact information of a writers’ group nearest you.

The following organizations have members throughout the world. Membership fees are annually and in U.S. dollars.

Association of Personal Historians (APH)
Purpose - Advance the profession of helping individuals, organizations, and communities preserve their histories, memories, and life stories.
Services - Educational, training, and networking opportunities to help professional personal historians, from beginners to advanced, build their personal history businesses, member web directory, regional events, annual conference, APH store.
Membership - $200. Open to any interested in personal history writing.

Biographers International Organization (BIO)
Purpose - Represent the everyday interests of practicing biographers: those who have published the stories of real lives, and those working on biographies – in every medium, from print to film.
Services - Member web directory, annual BIO Award for lifetime contribution to biography, annual conference, monthly newsletter.
Membership Levels:
Active - $45 to $150 based on annual writing income from biography. For those who are writing, filming, recording, or otherwise producing a biography.
Associate - $30. For anyone interested in the craft and art of biography.
Affiliate - $250. For corporations, companies, and firms wishing to provide financial support to BIO.

International Auto/Biography Association (IABA)
Purpose - Broaden the world vision of auto/biographers, scholars and readers, deepen the cross-cultural understanding of self, identity and experience, and carry on global dialogues on life writing.
Services - Biennial conference in exotic world locations, periodic newsletter.
Membership - Membership fee not required.

International Society of Family History Writers and Editors
Purpose - Encourage excellence in writing and editorial standards in genealogical publishing. This embraces all media, including newspapers, magazines, newsletters, professional journals, books (including compiled family histories), online columns, society and personal websites, web logs (blogs), and broadcast journalism of all sorts.
Services - Quarterly newsletter, annual writing competition, annual conference, links to members’ publications and websites.
Membership - $15. Open to anyone involved in genealogy columns and articles or writing about family history. This includes present and potential columnists, writers, and editors, as well as publishers, broadcasters, and webmasters for genealogical and historical societies.

National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW)
Purpose - Help memoir writers feel empowered with purpose and energy to begin and develop their life stories into a publishable memoir, whether in essay form, a book, a family legacy, or to create a blog.
Services - Workshops; tele-seminars; interviews with writers and experts in the area of memoir, writing skills, therapeutic writing, spiritual autobiography, and healing through writing personal, authentic stories. Free subscription to monthly email newsletter, no membership required.
Membership - $149. Open to anyone interested in memoir writing.
Image: Public domain

Dan Curtis: Why Can't I Do My Own Life Story?

Dan Curtis
Guest Article by Dan Curtis

You can. There are books and workshops that can offer guidance. Let me tell you the advantage of hiring a personal historian.

First of all, it’s more fun! It is easier talking to someone who is genuinely interested in your story than sitting by yourself facing a blank sheet of paper or computer screen.

Another advantage is that the project will actually be completed. Many people have the best of intentions but often never get their life story finished. A personal historian is a professional who can handle your book or video from beginning to end. You don’t have to worry about learning publishing software or the complexities of video editing.

Remember that your life story is a treasured legacy. You want to leave something of beauty and quality. A personal historian can ensure that happens.

Photo courtesy Dan Curtis. Contact Dan Curtis

Memoir Can Focus on a Life-changing Event

I'm helping Tim and Marcia write a book about their struggles dealing with Tim's depression. It's an example of a memoir that focuses on a life-changing event.

Tim's depression came upon him suddenly, like a heavy and dark cloud, and his family dealt with its serious effects for six years. He lost his job, drank alcohol to escape the turmoil of depression's grip, slept most of the time, and often was overcome by fits of uncontrollable crying. They lived on Social Security disability income, financial help from friends and family, and Marcia's part-time work as a caterer. Tim tried many physical treatments and prescription medications, all with only minimal and temporary relief.

"Our faith in God kept us together and kept us searching," says Marcia.

A Christian residential treatment center in St. Louis provided their best results. Tim also discovered he could lessen the grip of the dark clouds with a regimen of running. Although he no longer suffers major symptoms of depression, the disease will always be in him.

Fifteen million people in the U.S. experience depression every day. Many factors can trigger depression, but no specific cause has been identified by health professionals.

Tim now has a senior-level executive position in the information technology field that takes him all over the world. Marcia still owns her catering business and works at it full time.

Classes, Courses and Conferences on Writing Memoirs


Classes, courses and conferences are great ways to learn how-to-do-it if you're a beginning memoir writer and to sharpen your skills if you’re experienced.

My ninety-minute class at the Library Center in Springfield, Missouri, “Writing Family Memoirs for Fun and Profit,” is free and no registration is required. Classes are the second Tuesday of each month, 10:30 a.m. to Noon in the Harrison Room. New and experienced memoir writers are welcome. It is not a series; the same material is presented each class. Location and telephone number of the Library Center are on its website.

Check with the library nearest you as to whether memoir writing classes are offered. Other places to look are local writers’ groups, state historical societies, community colleges, baccalaureate colleges and universities (extension and regular terms), city/county parks departments, and senior citizens centers. Whether online or seated classes, be sure to investigate before signing up. Know the costs, prerequisites, travel considerations, dates and times. Check with your nearest Better Business Bureau or your local Chamber of Commerce as to whether there have been complaints regarding class producers, sponsors, or presenters.

The following listings are for informational purposes only. I’m not responsible for their content or credibility and I do not endorse them in any manner. You are on your own due diligence in any association you may have with these listings and their offerings. The listings are a small sample of what is available. You may find many others by entering into your browser’s search field the words memoir writing classes or online memoir writing classes (without the italics), or similar wording. Dates, availabilities and websites can change quickly, so carefully review a listing that interests you.

Seated Classes
Ashville, North Carolina: Peggy Tabor Millen, Clarity Works
Chicago: The Writers’ Loft
New York, Crete, Barcelona, Florence: Creativity Workshop
New York; Palm Desert, California; Santa Barbara, California: Maureen Murdock Memoir Classes and Workshops
Northern Nevada Writing Project: Teacher in-service classes
Olympia, Washington: Washington State Historical Society
Ontario, Canada: Storylines
Pasadena, California: Footprints Writing Clubs
Troy, New York: The Arts Center of the Capital Region
Westport, Connecticut: Westport Writers’ Workshop

Online Classes, Tele-classes, Self-directed Classes
Journaling and Memoir Writing 101
KSURF Virtual University. This is not a radio or television station. Scroll down the left side of the page to Journalism and Writing Classes and then select Writing Memoirs: The Journey to Me.
Lisa Romeo Writes
Matilja Press
The Memoir Writing Workbook

Soleil Lifestory Network
Writers Digest University: Focus on the Personal/Family Memoir, Fundamentals of Life Stories Writing

Membership Organizations with Conferences or Workshops
Association of Personal Historians
Biographers International Organization

This Book Combines Memoir and Corporate History



Dumb Luck or Divine Guidance is an example of combining a memoir with a corporate history. Dorsey Levell and I were hired by the Council of Churches of the Ozarks, Springfield, Missouri to write the book for its fortieth anniversary celebration observed in October 2009.

In a folksy, easy-to-read style and a deeply personal account, Dorsey recalls his thirty-one years as founding executive director of the Council. Special features of the book include personal remembrances by community leaders who worked with Dorsey, a timeline of key events in the history of the Council, a list of operating agencies and ministry partners of the Council, an honor roll of Council board members, and an index. There is a section of photographs of some of the programs Dorsey started, including bicycle repairs and new bikes for children’s Christmas presents, Ozarks Food Harvest, a new headquarters building, and Gift of Time to recognize and thank community volunteers.

Dorsey takes readers through his successes and his failures. From his early and tentative days with the Council when he was ready to quit because there was no office, no staff and no budget, to an annual budget of twelve million dollars. From the heady days of seemingly unstoppable growth of the Council, to a fear he would cause its downfall in his despair over the unexpected death from cancer of his closest friend and co-worker.

Dorsey speaks candidly of the reasons for his divorce after forty-two years of marriage, being diagnosed with degenerative arthritis, battling prostate cancer, undergoing five-way heart bypass surgery, his nearly three decades as a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserve, and his love for the outdoors, especially fishing.

During his tenure the Council created fifteen human service agencies, grew to 120 paid staff and more than one thousand volunteers, and was recognized throughout the United States as a model of effective outreach ministries.

The book is $19.95 plus shipping and may be purchased from the Council at 417-862-3586.

Cover designed by Eric Baker. Visit him at Blue Sky Design.

Pat McNees: Therapeutic Benefits of Telling Life Stories

Personal historian Pat McNees (pictured) has written on the therapeutic benefits of telling life stories, especially for those under geriatric care. Here are some of the benefits she discovered for the elderly, caregivers, and family:
  • Improving mood and quality of life
  • Increasing emotional support
  • Reducing suffering and depression
  • Attaining a sense of peace
  • Calming the elder
  • Improving self-esteem for family and the elder
  • Making amends
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Reconciling alienated relationships
  • Giving back
  • Improving problem-solving skills
  • Assisting with the grief process
  • Strengthening connections among patients, caregivers, and family members
  • Creating compassionate presence
  • Developing a spiritual experience
Read Pat McNees’ article, “The Beneficial Effects of Life Story and Legacy Activities” in the Journal of Geriatric Care Management.
Photo courtesy Pat McNess. Visit her website.

12 Reasons Why Now is the Best Time to Turn Your Memories into a Book

You are the best person to tell your stories. Only you can bring your unique perspectives to your life’s experiences. Before you become physically and mentally unable to tell your stories, consider why you should do it now.

You will be:

1. Providing a special gift to your children and grandchildren that will be a priceless and lasting treasure.

2. Enriching your family’s history with your unique perspectives.

3. Linking the lives of your ancestors with the lives of your descendants.

4. Teaching useful coping skills.

5. Leaving a legacy of your moral values, spiritual beliefs, and family traditions.

6. Helping others enjoy life.

7. Increasing self esteem and raising satisfaction.

8. Honoring those who made a difference in your life and those who helped you make a difference in the lives of others.

9. Entertaining with stories of pleasant times and accomplishments.

10. Inspiring with stories of sorrows and challenges.

11. Clarifying the understanding of your life’s journey.

12. Memorializing your experiences to be more than just names and dates.

Adapted from Get Started--Benefits of Preserving Your Stories.

To get started now just send me an email.

Tips on Working With a Personal Historian

Many individuals and corporations don't know how to begin writing a history, or they don't have the time. So, they engage a personal historian to help. Here are some tips to guide you through the process.

What does a personal historian do?
A personal historian helps you write your memories. He or she records interviews with you and writes and edits a narrative based on the interviews. The project can include selecting and formatting photos, videos, and music; designing and laying out a book; printing and distributing the book; producing a DVD; or creating a family website. Some functions may be contracted to other vendors. You review and approve the final product and receive a copy of the work, often on CD.

What information is included in the narrative?
Whatever you and your personal historian agreed to. It can be a few stories of key events in your life or it can encompass your entire life. Major areas often are childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and married life, and elder years. Before beginning a project, decide the extent of information you want to include and whether you will be doing genealogy searches. A note of caution on genealogy: It can go on forever. Unless you are extremely knowledgeable and experienced in this area, or can engage someone who is, I recommend you stick to straight narrative. Not all personal historians will do genealogies. Another note: Your name will appear in the book as author; your personal historian is your ghost writer.

What will it cost?
That's like asking "What does a car cost?" It depends on the things you want in the final product. An experienced personal historian will conduct an initial consultation with you at no cost and then prepare a detailed written agreement on what he or she will do, including a time period to complete the project and what is expected of you. Family members may participate in the costs or commission a project for a loved one. Personal historians may charge by the hour or by the project. The interview process could take a dozen hours or more, usually in several sessions of one hour to ninety minutes each. Your personal historian then transcribes the recordings and writes the narrative. Writing can take ten times as long as the interviews. Then, there is editing and shaping the final manuscript for your approval and the production of a book or video as you direct.

There may be out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, lodging, food, and telephone. You work out with your personal historian whether these will be additional charges or whether they will be rolled into a package price. An experienced personal historian will not be able to do a well-crafted personal history for $1,000. Typically, projects cost $5,000 to $10,000 and can go over $50,000.

Where can I get more information?
Type the words personal historian into your Web browser’s search field.
Visit the Association of Personal Historians at www.personalhistorians.org/.
Subscribe to a free email newsletter at http://dancurtis.ca/.
Pick up a copy of How to Write Your Own Life Story, Fourth Edition, by Lois Daniels (1997, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated).