If I Journal, do I need to Write a Memoir?

Women opening a journal to write a memoir

Is your journal one of your besties? Do its pages hold your thoughts, your heartache, and your dreams?

I know that mine does. In fact, as a keen journaler, my journal and I are on good terms. During my grief, I journaled extensively. So much so that my journal became resource material when it was time for me to write my memoir.

I found journaling to be cathartic, a place of healing where I could pour out my heart. I found that I could wrestle questions on the page that would otherwise rattle around in my head and potentially haunt me.

Which then led me to ask this question: If I journal, do I even need to write a memoir?

For me, the answer was yes.

I have found that journaling and memoir writing serve completely different functions.

Journaling certainly can stand on its own as a means of expression and as a record of thoughts and memories. As journaling is personal and subjective, there doesn’t need to be any connection between the daily journal pieces. As a result, it can function as a patchwork of writing and musings.

However, when it comes to writing a memoir, you are essentially writing a story – your story – and that requires that you observe the conventions of writing. This is a key difference when compared to the haphazardness to which journaling lends itself so well (more about the conventions of writing in other blog posts).

Both journaling and memoir writing requires that you engage your voice. The difference here is that journaling is a private expression of your voice, whereas memoir writing is a public voice. It was when I wrote my memoir and started to tell my story, as a story, that I truly found my voice, both as a writer and as a woman. Read more about that in the blog post Writing a Memoir: The Gift of Voice.

How does your voice need to be heard?

Is it time to write your memoir, to raise your voice, and to be heard? Do you need a plan, a structure, a support system? The best advice I can give you is this - start writing, just start, right now. On that note, did you read Ernest Hemingway's key writing advice on my home page?

Don't wait for the perfect time, it doesn't exist.

 Signature of memoir writer Brenda Smit-James

You can find links to my three most recent blog posts right here.

Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed using http://brendasmitjames.myshopify.com/blogs/all-about-memoir.atom.


  • Brenda

    Janesse, it is so wonderful to hear how you are already experiencing the healing power of telling your story. This is what I experienced too and is why I now do what I do, help others to capture their stories and know the healing that comes from doing that.

    I, personally, have never studied the story arc, I have always found it a sterile way to learn. However, I have learnt the structure of writing from reading. I am a prolific reader and by reading we can start to feel the rhythm of writing without even realizing it. Most writers read extensively. In fact, it is part of their daily schedule.

    Read well, to write well.

    With regard to linking up stories without rambling, I have these suggestions:
    First, are you clear about what you are writing and why?
    Do you edit your work? Don’t worry about the first draft. It doesn’t have to be good, it’s just got to get on to the page. After that, you can edit.
    How often do you write? The more often you write the better you will become at writing.

    You mention that you have just picked up the pen again. Based on that, I would suggest that you apply the 4 suggestions above and let any attempt to get it ‘right’ go. Start writing, keep writing, and trust the process. The rest will come together.

  • Janesse

    Thank you for all your wisdom on this very insightful blog. I recently started to write, I’m not sure on which direction this writing will take me but since picking up the pen and scribbling stories and notes down in my notebook my heart has already been filled with joy and excitement. Even through with some of the stories I need to take a minute to get composure because the tears are unstoppable, but there is still peace that is filled in putting life on paper.
    How do you establish structure, beginning, middle and end, does this come with time?
    In the very early stages it’s really difficult to try find a flow, how do I link up stories without rambling?

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published