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Memoir Writing Prompts for Adults

Kevin Ott
Woman writer at her desk

Getting started on a book can feel as easy as trying to push a stalled car. Once you get the car rolling, however, the pushing becomes easier. If you're having a tough time starting, use the following writing prompts to get the ideas for your memoir rolling.

Before You Start

Keep in mind an important principle in using writing prompts: tangents are encouraged. In fact, the more free association that occurs, the better. As you answer each question, if the answer reminds you of something else that jumps out in your memory, write about it - even if it has nothing to do with the question. These are merely prompts to produce a free flow of writing, not quiz questions.

Early Childhood

The following prompts for early childhood can help you note fond or funny moments.

  1. What is your earliest memory of your parents (or family members who raised you if it wasn't your parents)?
  2. What memory from your early childhood brings you the most joy?
  3. What is the scariest thing you remember from your early childhood?
  4. Describe the house and neighborhood where you lived during your first seven years with as much detail as you can.
  5. Describe what your first friend looked like and what you did together.

Middle Childhood

Middle school is a formative time. Use these prompts to help recall favorite and special memories.

  1. What was your favorite subject during grade school?
  2. Was there a class you dreaded? Why?
  3. Describe the physical appearance and mannerisms of your favorite teacher in grade school?
  4. Did you go on any vacations with your family? Where did you go?
  5. What was your favorite movie during your grade school years?

Teen Years

Growing towards adulthood comes with challenges as well as successes. These prompts can help your recollect and write about your teen years.

  1. Describe the day you turned 13. If you don't remember, describe the happiest memory from the year you turned 13.
  2. Who was your first crush? Describe his or her appearance, personality and what you liked most about the person.
  3. Did anyone ever break up with you? Was there a song you liked to listen to after the breakup?
  4. What was the biggest challenge in your life during your teen years?
  5. Was there a day during your teen years you wish you could re-live over and over again?
  6. How did you decorate your locker?
  7. What was the hardest class you took in high school and why?
  8. What was the most rebellious thing you did as a teenager?
  9. What was the kindest thing you did as a teenager?

Early Adult Years

You may have some great memories and crazy stories from your young adult years. Use these prompts to recall and write out the details.

  1. What was your first job after high school?
  2. What did you do for your 21st birthday?
  3. Who did you vote for during the first presidential election when you were old enough to vote?
  4. Describe the first place you lived on your own.
  5. If you went to college, what was the thing you loved most about your college experience?
  6. What was the thing you liked the least about college?
  7. What was the wildest thing you during your twenties?

Career Experiences

Your chosen career(s) have a big impact on your life and experiences.

  1. What was the hardest job you've ever had and why?
  2. Describe a few of your biggest triumphs in your career.
  3. Describe the biggest failure or frustration of your working life.
  4. What was the funnest job you've ever had and why?
  5. Did you ever work in an environment or office culture like the one portrayed in the show The Office?

Romance

Romance and relationships are probably a significant part of your past.

  1. Have you ever written a poem or a song for someone or received a poem or song from someone?
  2. What was the most romantic excursion you've ever taken with someone?
  3. If you had to summarize your life experience with romance by using a movie, which movie would you choose?
  4. Did you ever have a summer romance?
  5. Describe the best and worst dates you've ever had.

Hobbies and Travel

Couple looking at mountains

Share the things you love and the places you've been in your memoir with these prompts.

  1. What was the first hobby you had?
  2. What hobbies did your parents have?
  3. What has become the most important, longest-lasting hobby in your life?
  4. Describe the funnest things you do in your hobby.
  5. Is there a hobby you've always wanted to try but never had the chance?
  6. What's the most interesting place you've visited for a vacation?
  7. What's the worst experience you've had during a vacation?
  8. Have you ever spontaneously went on a road trip or vacation without planning it?

Inspirational/Spiritual/Religious

Your convictions and beliefs are important; get inspired to write about them with the following prompts.

  1. Is there a higher power or higher truth that inspires you?
  2. Have you ever had a religious or spiritual experience?
  3. Describe the most beautiful church, temple, mosque or other religious-related structure you've seen and what the occasion was that allowed you to see it.
  4. Is there a particular place you like to go that brings you peace of mind and spiritual inspiration?

One-Word and Single Phrase Writing Prompts

Using short writing prompts is the ultimate exercise in free association writing. Try not to think too hard. Respond to each word or phrase reflexively just like your knee responds when the doctor strikes it with her little hammer. Quickly start writing whatever comes to your mind, no matter how random or inconsequential it may seem.

  1. Picnics
  2. Snow day
  3. Sleeping in
  4. Strawberries
  5. Wedding vows
  6. Rain boots
  7. Tardy bell at school
  8. Job interview
  9. Natural disaster
  10. Broken bone
  11. Sunrise
  12. Jury duty
  13. Night club
  14. Hiking trail
  15. Sunset
  16. VW Bug
  17. Police officer
  18. Beach trip
  19. Electric guitar

Let the Memories and Inspiration Flow

Writing prompts have a simple goal: prevent writer's block. They also aid you in unearthing memories or events you've forgotten, and they help you see how some events have shaped your life. However you use them, don't be afraid to use these prompts more than once. You might be surprised that you answer the same question differently depending on what is happening in your life.

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Memoir Writing Prompts for Adults