Sylvia Inks signs copies of her nonfiction book, Small Business Finance for the Busy Entrepreneur

How do you start a book? A better way to put it would be, how do you eat an elephant? One page (or bite) at a time. Writing a book about your life is a daunting project and I’ve known some writers who started taking memoir workshops with me ten years ago and they still aren’t closer to getting their memoir done. If this describes you, I hope this blog post can help or if you are starting your memoir book journey, I hope this blog post may save you some time.


In my experience as a writing coach/mentor, I’ve learned better ways to teach writers how to structure their memoirs. Taking inspiration from a business plan proposal and a nonfiction book proposal, these are the necessary ingredients for getting your memoir from your head to the printed page!


The 6 Steps I Promised You:


  1. List out 10 scenes in chronological order. First list them; don’t write them out. Make sure the scenes involve you and another person and that they are full of good conflict—is someone failing in the scenes? Good scenes usually involve someone saying “no” or doing something inappropriate.
  2. Once you have your 10 scenes written out, make 10 chapter titles out of them. Place one scene in each of your 10 chapters. Now stretch and write 12 chapters—your first chapter will be an intro chapter and your last one will be the conclusion. Please note, you may not have a scene that goes in these “bookend” chapters.
  3. Now you have 12 chapters, 12 chapter titles and 10 scenes. Good. Your Intro chapter will be about “why you wrote this book.” Start writing at least 500 words. Stop. Then start writing chapter summaries for your next 11 chapters. You can incorporate the scenes into the chapter, but most importantly, I want you to write about what you plan to include in each chapter. Try to make each chapter summary 1,000 words.
  4. Try to have 10,000 words written before you tell me these three things:
    1. Your intended audience/your ideal reader
    2. The theme of your book
    3. Your 200-word back-of-the-book blurb
    4. Your 150-200 word bio
  5. Your next step is to flesh out each chapter’s content and make sure the reader can easily follow your story. Are you including dialogue, scene description, character development, conflict, motivation and first person reflection? I would read several memoirs at this point to inspire you. Some of my favorites include:

The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolffe

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

Fastnet Force 10 by John Rousmaniere


  1. You probably have 45,000 words now—which is a great length for a memoir. Before you get your book published, I would recommend hiring an editor because memoirs are tricky—sometimes what we think is important and universal, may be completely boring to the reader. I teach memoir workshops and have several coming up this fall to help you finish your memoir!
  2. Read all you can about how to structure and start your memoir to keep you motivated. I suggest Jerry Jenkins’ 3-step guide on how to write your memoir. Jenkins is the author of the bestselling Left Behind series.

Good luck, my friends!