• Marion Roach Smith
  • Want to Write Memoir? Let Me Introduce Myself and My Manifesto. Maybe We can Help.
Want to Write Memoir? Let Me Introduce Myself and My Manifesto. Maybe We can Help.
Written by
Marion Roach Smith
February 2012
Written by
Marion Roach Smith
February 2012

There is an old saying that most men would rather have you hear their story than grant their wish. I’m fairly sure that can be said of all of us, especially when I see how much memoir is being written these days. I’m also fairly sure that those writers who struggle when writing memoir do so because while they desire to tell their stories, they try to tell too much too fast.

Maybe I can help.

I’ve been teaching memoir writing for about 15 years, at last count to more than one thousand people, and over the years I have developed what I call my Memoir Manifesto. I love that title because it sounds like something I can turn back to any time I need it. And it is.

I’d love to share it with you, since that’s what we do here at SheWrites, believing as we do that SheWriters should be invested in one another’s success.

For today, I’ll merely print the Manifesto here, hoping it gets you curious about what’s to come. Then for the week we’re together, I’ll explain each point every week day, as well as introduce you to some memoir writing that brings these points to life. I hope that sounds good.

Here we go.


Memoir Manifesto

By Marion Roach Smith


1. Stop practicing, and write with intent

2. Stake out your territory

3. Write what you know

4. Go small

5. Pack light

6. Ask, “What is this about?”

7. Use an algorithm

8. Act like Galileo in Wal-mart 

9. Make your argument

10. Include transcendence


Are you curious yet? I hope so. Get ready. See you tomorrow. 

Let's be friends

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  • Marion Roach Smith

    HI, Tina. How kind of you to tell me about the "beautiful coincidence." I am delighted.

    It's been a good year for my irreverent little book. What I have not had the chance to tell many people is that the book was first self-published, making it an even greater delight to have it be such a success.

    In the run-up to this recession, my sister and I decided to try a little experiment and published it ourselves. This is despite both of us being previously well-published. We learned a lot in the process. Only after selling all the copies we'd printed did we take it to our agent who then took it out for auction. Out in June by Grand Central, The Memoir Project, is having quite a life.

    Thanks for coming by and saying hi. I look forward to staying in touch.

  • Tina Barbour

    This is a beautiful coincidence. I bought "The Memoir Project" just a few days ago after seeing a link on NPR's website. I love it! I can't tell you how helpful it has been so far. Asking myself "what is this about?" and using the algorithm have added much needed clarity to my memoir writing. And then I read that you would be the guest editor on She Writes. I was so excited! Will now catch up on your other posts. Thank you for your help!

  • Marion Roach Smith

    Hi, Alexa. Well, I'd turn that question on its head a bit and say that if you do have a sturdy platform from which to sell your book, you'll be a lot more attractive to agents and editors. Getting a website, making connections, and building community begins right here at She Writes. Following that, start reading people like the fine Jeff Goins to get you started on building that platform.

  • Alexa Ara

    Hello! I have a question, if this is the appropriate forum, about seeking an agent once the memoir is complete. I have heard that for memoir writing, as in fiction writing, the writer isn't usually required to have a well-flushed out marketing plan (a platform, etc.) prior to querying agents. Is that true?

  • Marion Roach Smith

    Hi, Irene.

    I'm so glad.

    I'm all about motivation. So let's get writing, shall we?



  • Irene Bynum

    Looking forward to tomorrow. This sounds like what I need at this moment for motivation! 


  • Marion Roach Smith

    Hi there. How lovely to read your comments. Many thanks for them.

    Ananda: How lovely. That book is now out from Grand Central Publishing with a new title, cover and pages. It's now called The Memoir Project, A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life. After I self-published it as Realia, it became "the little book that could," and got a mass market life. Thank you. I'm so glad you had such a great experience with it. 

    Hi, Suzi. Love the Hurray! Thank you so much. So glad to see you here.

    Hello, Melinda. Nice to meet you. I hope you enjoy my irreverent little book. It was a joy to write. I am delighted and honored to be here at SheWrites. Please follow along for the week.

    Hi, Heidi. I'm very proud of all four books, all of which have a high degree of memoir. If you are looking for instruction, the The Memoir Project is the one to get. Hope you love it. And thanks again for the warm welcome.

  • Heidi R. Moore

    Hi Marion, your books look great--just what I need. If I can only buy one right now (and am languishing in the middle of a memoir, just writing and writing and writing within my structure and getting noplace), which of your books would you recommend as a starter?

  • Melinda Gallo

    Hi Marion!

    I'm currently reading "The Memoir Project" and am excited to read more from you on SheWrites! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with us.

    Warm regards,


  • suzi banks baum

    Hurray! Marion on SheWrites! I look forward to this...and especially number ten...well all of them. xoxox S

  • Ananda Leeke

    Happy Valentine's Day Marion and SheWrites community!


    Marion, your memoir book Writing What You Know: Realia saved me from myself in 2010.  I began using it as life jacket and soul preserver in my creative and memoir writing.  It worked. Thank you so much for your wonderful work. I love the list you made. I am going to print it and use it as a reminder and inspiration in my current memoir writing process.  Enjoy your day! Stay in the creative flow.


    Blessings, Ananda


    PS: I love the Sisterhood Project web site.  That's how I discovered your book.