Writing A Memoir

Posted on February 21, 2011

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Most people have one of three reasons to start them thinking about writing a memoir.

 One is posterity.  When we left the communal campfires of our ancestors, we stopped telling the stories that were passed down through countless generations.  Nowadays, as we age, it’s natural to want to pass down our experiences to children and grandchildren.  Most people reveal their lives in bits and pieces, even to loved ones we see on a daily basis.  We might say, “My dad used to take me fishing sometimes,” when a child points out a fishing rod in a store.  Or we might use a childhood experience as a “lesson” for a child or grandchild when a certain situation comes up.  While there might be great value in these stories, there is little consistency to any of it.  And stories told to our children may not be passed down to our grandchildren.  A memoir is a way to leave a legacy. 

A second is personal healing.  The power of recording the most painful episodes of our lives can’t be stressed enough.  Secrets held make us feel ashamed and allow us no perspective.  Even writing one sentence can be liberating.  Try it.  Think of something you have never spoken of to anyone.  Write it down in one sentence or one paragraph or one page. Then tear up the paper. These types of memoirs needn’t be shared with anyone.  They are the journey within. 

A third is bringing our story to the world.  Many people have compelling stories to tell, stories that have the potential of enlightening, fascinating, or healing others.  Our memoirs are the gifts we give to people we have never met.

The two roadblocks that people encounter when they think of writing a memoir are I can’t write. Or I have nothing to say.  Or I don’t know how to begin. The first is even said by writers.  The meaning is “I can make stories up, and I can write about other people.  I don’t know how to write about myself.”  The translates as, “My life is ordinary.  Who would want to read about it?”  The third can either be a mechanics issue or a way to avoid.  The point is none of these statements are real.  They are the story we tell ourselves in order to avoid writing the story.

You can write a memoir.  Your life isn’t ordinary.  And there are ways to go about this.  These statements seem simplistic to people who already write, especially since many people who write blogs talk about themselves all the time.  But many blogs are like little bullets of someone’s life experience.  And they are sometimes intended to entertain, rather than to reveal.  A powerful memoir has a message, one that is conveyed in every experience that is told.

Nothing I know about memoirs is from books.  It’s from sitting down with my two co-authors and slogging our way through our own lives.  It was all trial and error.  A lot of it didn’t work at first draft.  But, as time went by, we kept getting better at it.  More focused.  More authentic.  Less self-protective.  It’s our honesty that has resonated with readers, not our superb literary skills (a casual flipping through of the book will be evidence of that).  So, for us, the journey went deep into ourselves.  And in so doing, we were able to reach a lot of women (and men.)  We were lucky.  Writing our memoirs gave us something to pass down to children and grandchildren.  It healed us.  And it brought our stories to others. 

Part 2 will be the mechanics of how to start writing and what might work for you.

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Posted in: writing