A Memoir as a Gift: Writing a book for someone without the person knowing

When people think of writing books, the thought is generally driven by their own life; obstacles, passions, and ideas. However, I do occasionally come across someone – or two people in the past week – who have inquired on how to write a book for someone without that person knowing. I’m not talking a “Fire and Fury” fly on the wall take of the Whitehouse, I am talking about a gift of someone’s life to that person.

Understandably, this can be a tough task considering no one will know their life better than the person you want to write about. Yet, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible and here is where you will learn a few tricks to get a little more insight into your loved one’s life.

Perspective: Perspective of a person’s life does not always have to be their own. In fact, biographers have made millions of dollars not giving perspective to the person they are writing about. But, for you, this may mean something else. One of the most creative ways to do this is to ask others (family, friends, and acquaintances) to tell familiar stories of the person’s life from their perspective. These can then be written as small vignettes in a book filled with photos, quotes, and a scrapbook style of appeal. The result is often, both nostalgic, humorous and heartfelt. This is a great way for someone to realize how much of an impact they have been on others  – something everyone needs a little reminder of.

Photos, journals, and your own memories: This is likely what you were already thinking about when the idea of writing someone else’s life story. You know stories because they were told to you and a good start is to write down as much as you can remember, starting with a simple title for each story, and followed by the story itself. You can then use photos, journals, diaries and other writing to supplement your own retold stories of that person.

Bring out the inner-sleuth: Okay, so we all know you’ve been just waiting for me to say “You need to secretly record grandma.” Well, that’s not a bad idea, although you should be conscious of whether the person will be okay with being secretly recorded – they will find out. What I would suggest is simply approaching the person and say, “Hi grandma, I know you’ve told us stories, but I’d love to learn a little more.” Starting a dialogue to let the person know you are interested, but maybe not divulging everything, is a great way to get that extra information you need.

Fess up: Ultimately, many people decide that instead of surprising the person with a book on their birthday, anniversary, or other special days, they will simply break the news and introduce me to the person. The offer to pay for a professional writer to work with the person to create a special book chronicling is one of the best gifts you can give to someone. Not only will the person have the fun of talking about and remembering their life, but they now know they will be giving a special legacy to their descendants.

Giving the gift of memories and a full life is a great way to celebrate the person you love. If you have any questions or would like to sit down for a casual non-committal discussion I’d love to hear your story and ideas!

If you are looking for a writer to help with your book or other writing/editing project please contact me to discuss. You can find my rates and types of projects I work on here.


I am a full-time freelance writer specializing in books, though I also write blogs, web-content, and handle several other types of projects. To see what I offer visit my rates page or contact me with specific queries and questions. I’m also available to help mentor you through your first book. I’d love to work with you, and if you know anyone else looking for a writer I offer a generous referral fee.

If you would like to leave a donation for people interested in writing a book about their life and challenges, but lack the budget, you can contribute here.

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