Writing a Memoir: Options for Non-Writers

What many people do not realize is that writing your life story is like telling your story to a good friend who is there to listen and ask open-ended questions that will lead into the heart of your life. ~ Write Wisdom, Inc

Looking BackWe all have stories inside of us, life experiences that just won’t leave us alone. For years these untold tales, or maybe oft-told tales, roll round and round in our wee brains, knocking on our insides hoping for an outlet. As a writer I can transfer all those pieces of my life’s journeys into essays or poems or longer works of nonfiction such as a memoir. But what is a non-writer to do with those same kinds of stories of childhood turmoil, of battlefield memories, of love lost and finally won?

Write it: You might surprise yourself

JT Weaver is a good example of someone who was never a writer until he decided to leave behind a legacy to his children of lessons learned. In an interview with Diana Jackson at A Selection of Recollections he said, “When I was 15, I could barely read and write. I never took a writing course, so I’m largely ignorant of the literary arts, as was my father. When I decided to begin writing, I closed my eyes. In my mind, I built a fire, sat in a comfortable chair, and put on my father’s shoes. Then I told a story just as he had, only my story went to paper. I use the same constructs, the same tempo, and the same relaxed style. The words just flowed with ease. Not his words; my words, but his style, and his wisdom. Sure, this is my story, not his, but I could hear him telling each story as if he were sitting next to me.”

JT’s approach to writing his life stories has merit and is an excellent way for non-writers to approach penning their own – imagine you’re telling the story to someone who has never heard it before such as a future generation, your grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Or sit down with a friend, a cup of coffee and a tape recorder, and then begin the telling.

Hire a Ghostwriter

If you don’t believe you’re capable of writing your own story, hiring a ghostwriter might be your best bet. There are well over a million results in a Google search for ghostwriting services, among them are Gotham Ghostwriters, Ghostwriters Inkand the Association of Ghostwriters. Most ghostwriters don’t receive recognition for their work and many are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. They get paid upfront, so if you hire a ghostwriter, you keep the copyright and the royalties. Another advantage to going this route is that the book might only take half a year to complete. The huge disadvantage is the price, which starts at about $12,000. You know all those celebrity memoirs (and celebrity cookbooks)? Ghostwriters are responsible, and they got paid good bucks, as much as $200,000. Do your research, though. I’m sure there are thousands of individual writers in the world not associated with a ghostwriting service who would work for a more affordable fee.

Collaborate with a Writer:

In some cases, you might be able to find a writer to write your story for you, someone who will trade payment upfront for a share of future royalties. This is the arrangement I have with AJ Jackson, the subject of This New Mountain. As her friend, I offered to write her memoir in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Finding someone to write your memoir without getting paid for their time and talent is a long shot but not impossible. The first place to start would be to contact a writing organization in your area. If your story is compelling enough, you might find someone willing to work with you.

I admit that these three options are limited, but the choice, to me, is obvious – write your own story. You can do it. Even if you’ve never written a thing. Even if you have no idea where to start. Begin with your most vivid memory or the one that had the most impact on shaping your life, and move on from there. Who knows your own story better than you?

Here are a few articles you might find useful:


2 thoughts on “Writing a Memoir: Options for Non-Writers

  1. Having written the memoir of a dear elderly friend of the family (103 years with a sharp memory and wit!) it is a rewarding and memorable experience in itself and the times I spent with Norman I will treasure always, but it does take time…an enormous amount if you intend to format the document as well as to transcribe it. Not to be taken on lightly.


    • It is an honor to be allowed entrance into someone else’s life and share in the memories that shaped them. And to be true to those memories does take time. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!


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