Five Handy Digital Tools for Writing Your Memoir

Have you gotten to a point in your life when you would like to reflect on the people, events, and experiences that have shaped who you are? Maybe your audience is only yourself, or just your family, or perhaps you hope to publish for a wider audience—whatever the case, there are fabulous digital tools to aid you in this quest.

One of the first questions you need to ask yourself, according to the experts is, are you writing an autobiography or a memoir? Author Jerry Jenkins explains how he sees the difference between the two genres:

“An autobiography is your life story from birth to the present.”

“A memoir is theme-oriented with anecdotes from your life that buttress a specific theme.”

Memoir writing is a complex undertaking, however, the process and end product are very rewarding.  Here are five digital tools to help you along the way.

1. The internet

    • Research the local, national, and world events that occurred simultaneously with your experiences so you can build context for your reader. For example, if you are describing how the turbulent events of the 1960’s led to your activism, search for newspaper articles of the times that provide original source material. You often can find free access or free trial access to the archived newspaper articles. Sometimes there is a fee involved. Putting on your detective hat to effectively search the web will be time-consuming, but probably also a lot of fun. Below are some sites with great tips on how to make the best use of your time.

2. LiveBinders

This free site allows you to gather and store all sorts of resources in one place. Think back to your school days. When you had to write a research paper, wasn’t one of the most frustrating things about the process keeping all of your materials organized–bibliographic info, all of those 3 X 5 index card notes, etc.?  Well, LiveBinders allows you to set up a free site, accessible from any digital device, that organizes and stores every kind of imaginable type of information:

    • Websites
    • Images
    • Word processing documents
    • Videos

I have set up a LiveBinder to organize my materials for writing about digital tools useful in memoir writing as an example so you can begin to understand how this site works. LiveBinders is worth checking out.

My Table of Contents so far

My choices of types of files to upload to LiveBinder

An example of an image saved to LiveBinders

This image shows how websites are stored.

I can even keep drafts of my writing stored on my LiveBinders site.

3. Voice Recorder

You are out and about and suddenly a memory or really good anecdote for your memoir pops into your head. You can’t pull over during rush hour traffic or stop in the middle of LL Bean’s fly fishing display to write it down.  However, you have your phone with you.  An iPhone comes with the Voice Memos app already loaded and the Android phones also have downloadable apps like Samsung’s Voice Recorder. Your phone in your pocket is a handy recording device to capture your ideas away from the computer.

The other wonderful use of these recording apps is with interviews. Instead of trying to keep up with a conversation with hand-written notes, just call up the app and record.  You now have a record of the interview to check the details from your conversations.  Just remember to tell the person you are recording the conversation.

There are also apps that will transcribe your recordings.  The apps are often free, however, you have to pay for the transcribing by the hour.

4. Digital Story Telling Apps

Have you considered creating a visual memoir?  Combining images, music, and narration provide powerful experiences for the viewer while tapping into your multi-media expertise. The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert in order to produce a wonderful visual story. You will have to spend time learning an app if you don’t already know it, but that’s fun if you are not working under a deadline.  Here are four apps that allow you to combine images, audio files, text, and narration.  Plus you can play with special effects and fancy transitions between slides and video clips.

    • iMovie (Apple products) Creates a movie using stills and/or video clips.
    • Keynote (Apple’s presentation app) You can record a narration for the slides and export it as a movie file.
    • Camtasia (Works on all computers) Creates a movie using stills and/or video clips.
    • PowerPoint (Office’s presentation app) Creates a slide show with images, audio files, text, and narration.

5. Google Earth

In a well-written memoir, the reader emotionally connects with the author’s words. Often the locales mentioned are important for the reader to become fully immersed in the narration and thus place descriptions are critical.  But what if you haven’t visited a place in a long time? Will you remember the details with enough clarity to bring them to life? Google Earth to the rescue.

The image above is the neighborhood where I grew up. It hasn’t changed a whole lot in 50 years, and immediately memories and names come rushing back. With Google Earth, I can trace the route I walked to high school each day and remind myself of the four miles I trudged uphill each way. OK, OK, it was flat all the way and not nearly four miles. My point, however, is that if I were writing about my high school experiences Google Earth would help me develop a keen sense of place for my reader.


Webbing tools to organize your thoughts

You are ready to begin your first draft–are you an outliner or mind mapper (web maker).  Some folks prefer a more linear approach to organizing their thought and they use a traditional outline approach.

Others find a more visual approach such as mind mapping or webbing work better for them.  There are several sites on the web that provide a number of templates you might find useful.  One of them is I used one of their templates to create the organizing web below to help me plan this blog.

Here are just a few other of Canva’s mapping templates.

Check out these sites for mind mapping or webbing to use in the planning phase of your memoir writing experience:

Writing a memoir about some aspect of your life may seem daunting.  However, if you are under no time pressure to produce a piece, you just might find the experience enjoyable and rewarding. Why not give it a try?

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