Two Simple, Timesaving Ways to Organize Your Memoir Writing

memoirs organization tips writing tips Nov 12, 2022
Organizing Writing Files

You’ve decided it’s time to write your memoir. Eager to dive in, you open your laptop and create a new document titled, “My Memoir.”

Day One

Clickety-clack, your fingertips peck at the keys, and your first pages flow out of you. After writing a few thousand words, you feel satisfied with your first writing session. You finally did it; you started your memoir!

Day Two

You open your laptop and pick up where you left off writing the day before. Words flow, time flies, and before you know it, you’ve got another batch of pages under your belt. Amazing.

Day Three

You decide to jump ahead and write about memories from another period of your life. You’re not quite sure where this segment will fit into the story, but you decide to strike while the iron is hot and focus on capturing the memories that are foremost on your mind today.

Day Four and Beyond

Now that you’ve broken the seal and given yourself permission to write about any topic that comes to mind without any regard to chronology, you start to amass a growing body of random stories. Suddenly you realize that one day, you’ll have to sort all of these writing snippets out and string them together into a cohesive narrative. “Oh, no. What have I done?” you wonder.

How to Keep Your Writing Organized

The first job of writing a memoir is actually writing. In my “7 Tips to Get Started Writing Your Memoir,” I encourage writers to focus on writing more than anything else, at least initially. Developing a regular writing habit is the best predictor that you’ll actually finish writing your memoir.

So if diving straight into writing pages is how you’ve started your memoir, congratulations. You’re doing the actual work of a memoir writer. You’re writing! Resist the urge to edit, and keep going!

The only problem is that all of your random daily writings quickly add up to a batch of disorganized writing snippets. By Day 3 of this year’s 30-Day Memoir Writing Challenge, for example, one writer perfectly captured this dilemma:

“I have written about 5000 words and already wonder how I will ever make sense of it, much less piece together a complete story/book. For instance, my writing has taken me to unbearably small towns in Texas, to rainy streets of Paris on a winter's day, to spending an intoxicating time with Elvis, to pining over a dead sister, to carrying a hot, bubbly corn casserole to the dinner table set for two. Well. You get the picture. Anyone else experiencing this?”

I don’t know about you, but I have definitely experienced this! When I first set out to write my memoir, I created one Google doc and just started writing. I figured I could move things around when it came time to edit. What I quickly realized was how difficult it was to find specific stories and scenes within my stream-of-consciousness draft. I spent so much time scrolling up and down and back and forth throughout the document, searching for a scene that would work better if I moved it to a new section of the book. It was a confusing, tangled web of words.

Two Timesaving Tips for Your Writing Files

To help you avoid this same fate, here are two simple tips to help you organize your snippets, scenes, and stories from the start to help make the editing process a little easier later on.

1. Create separate documents for individual scenes and stories.

Memoir writing isn’t a linear process. Even if you’re working from an outline, some days your writing will take you down unexpected memory lanes. You never want to thwart a moment of inspiration, but you do need a way to retrieve random bits and pieces of writing so you can slot them into your overall memoir draft when you’re ready. 

I think of my memoir writing sessions as creating puzzle pieces. When I do my daily writing, I give each document a separate working title to clearly identify what the scene is about. I save these scenes and stories in a folder dedicated to all my memoir files. Until I have an outline for my memoir, I don’t worry about where these individual files will go in the memoir draft itself. I stay focused on writing scenes, and then save each file for later use when I’m ready to fit all the puzzle pieces together into one whole memoir draft.

2. Save different versions in case you want to return to a previous draft.

If you decide to edit your original version of a file, I recommend making a copy of it first, and then, using the same title, add the new version you’re creating (e.g. “The Day My Dog Died v2”). By creating a copy, you’ll always have the original and previous versions to return to should you ever want to retrieve something from a previous draft. 

When it’s time to assemble all the pieces into a rough draft of your memoir, there will likely be some files that don’t make the cut. That’s okay. By having clearly titled scenes and writing snippets, you’ll have a cupboard of material ready to draw from for your next memoir.

What are some timesaving tips you use for keeping your writing organized?


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