Searching For Structure in Memoir

What did I learn from what I went through?

Cindy Heath
4 min readOct 14, 2022


image by the author on

For three long years, I’ve been learning to write a memoir, and what an adventure it has been.

I planned to start at the beginning and just keep going until I reached eighteen. My initial goal was to share my childhood spent homesteading in Alaska and preserve those memories for my family.

But then I read The Memoir Project by author and writing coach Marion Roach Smith and realized my approach would result in a story to put even my family to sleep.

Does a memoir need a plot?

An argument? A Universal Truth? It was a lot to absorb.

Smith teaches aspiring memoirists to develop an algorithm for their projects. It goes like this: What I needed + what I tried = what worked to achieve my need.

This process not only creates the X + Y = Z but also fits into a traditional three-act structure format.

Why would you care about the details of my life?

People read stories, and yes—a memoir is a story. And a memorable tale takes the reader on a journey from one place to another.

And I don’t mean literal travels as I’ve taken. I went from California to Alaska to New Mexico to Alaska to Arizona to New Mexico to Texas to Washington to Texas to Washington. But the reader would want to know the why.

Otherwise, B-o-r-i-n-g.

We need to see the protagonist change as they gain insight. A person stays up late at night reading to find out what happens. Will the hero survive? How do they make it?

And most basic of all? The reader must identify with the character in some way.

Think of any story featuring a character on a quest.

Consider Harry Potter. I’ve never been a lonely, studious boy living under the stairs in an uncaring relative’s house, but, I have felt lonely and misunderstood.

Though I will never be a Pashtun boy who betrays his best friend after a kite-flying contest, I have remained silent out of cowardice and fear when courage could have made a…



Cindy Heath

I’ve been a farmer, entrepreneur, writer, and more. Always curious and still hopeful. If you are, too, read along and follow me at