Writing a 'inspiration memoir', or true life story.

Writing your Life Story

If you've come through to this page, you've probably been through some very challenging or hard times and have a story to tell. As far as publishing that story goes, there's good news and bad news.

The good news is that the market for inspirational true life stories (also called Inspirational Memoirs) is still fairly hot.

The bad news - you guessed it - is that competition is intense and only the best manuscripts are taken on by literary agents. If you have a story to tell, please ask yourself these questions first:

  • How will you feel if your story never gets published, or even accepted by a literary agent?
  • How will you feel about commercializing your story?
  • How will you feel about doing PR and other publicity work?

If your responses to these questions are negative, then you should think hard about going any further. If your answer is that you still want to go ahead, then read on ...


Cathy Glass

The international bestselling author of seventeen books, including three No 1’s. www.cathyglass.co.uk


  True life stories, or inspirational memoirs as they are also known, have enjoyed so much success in the last ten years that they have become a genre in their own right; often separate from biography.

My own first book Damaged (Feb 2007), in which I told the heart-rending story of a child I fostered, spent 3 months at the top of the bestseller charts. Since then Please Don’t Take My Baby, and Will You Love Me? have also been at number one, with all my other fostering stories going into the Top Ten for weeks. To date I have sold over 2 million copies of my books  around the world, and they have been translated into ten languages.

I am therefore clearly doing something right when it comes to this genre; but what? Is there a formula for writing Inspirational Memoirs like there is for Mills and Boon romance; and one that I can pass on? Not a formula as such, but having spent some time analyzing
how I write these books, I have come up with a few suggestions which may be of use if you are about to embark on memoir writing. These and more are covered in my book: About Writing and How To Publish.

If you are writing your own memoir, as opposed to ghostwriting for someone else, you will know your story better than anyone, and here lies your strength. Write straight from your heart. Think back and remember. When, and where did it all begin? Where were you? – the setting. What could you smell and hear? What could you see through the window? What was going through your mind? Be there and relive it, although this may be very upsetting if you have suffered; but writing is cathartic and writing it out is a therapy in itself.

Have an aim for your book (a remit) - a message you want to impart to your readers. It may be one of courage, faith, hope, or sheer bloody-mindedness. And remember when writing a true life story you have an emotional contract with your reader. You owe your reader honesty, and in return you will have your reader’s unfailing empathy and support. I have been completely overwhelmed by the thousands of emails I have received from readers who felt they knew me personally and were part of my family from reading my books. Their words of encouragement have been truly wonderful and are much appreciated. Some of these emails are on the blog on my website.

Write scenes, not a monologue. Although the memoir is true it doesn’t have to be a diatribe of abuse and suffering. Write it as you would a gripping novel, building scenes, creating tension, and using cliff-hangers at the end of chapters to keep the reader’s interest. There will be highs and lows in your story, so keep the reader on a roller coaster of emotion. There will be some very sad scenes, some horrendous incidents, and also some funny incidents. If there is constant and unrelenting degradation and abuse the reader will soon become desensitized and lose empathy, and therefore interest.

Make your book episodic – describing in detail events that are of interest or highly poignant to your story. Leave out the mundane unless it is an intrinsic part of building the scene. You can kaleidoscope years into a couple of lines, or spread half an hour into two chapters as necessary.

Your memoir should be approximately 85,000 words in length, with double line spacing, using a word processing package.  If it is your first memoir, the agent and publisher may also want a detailed proposal, even if your book is already written. Guidelines for writing a proposal can be found here - but feel free to contact the Writers' Workshop for more specific advice. For advice on other topics - including the all important issue of how to get a literary agent - check out the Free Advice pages on this site.

Read other books in the same genre, and analyze how and why the book works.

Good luck with your writing, and most importantly enjoy it!