Why Write a Memoir?

You may say, “I’m too young” or “My life is boring,” but you might be surprised.

What seems like mundane everyday life may very well be utterly fascinating to your grandchildren. For example, my grandmother rode steers in rodeos. That was a bit unusual, but still, when I found her journal from the 1940s that maybe listed only one item on a day: “Gathered seven eggs today” or “Rained today” or “Stayed in bed with a sick headache,” I felt like I’d gotten to know her a little better. I surmised she suffered from migraines. Having gone through a period of time when I had those terrible headaches, I could identify with what she went through.

A memoir is not the same as an autobiography. It can be a story based on one incident or one year or one decade of your life. It can have a theme, a storyline, a message, a lesson learned.

An autobiography is your whole life story, from beginning to end. Either version is important, because I see so much family history being lost. We don’t write letters anymore and I don’t know how many people keep journals. When I was young, I heard stories about my grandparents or parents when they were growing up and more or less dismissed them as just “that story grandpa always tells.” But after they had passed and I was older, I’ve so often wished I could hear those stories again and ask them more questions.

Even if you simply make a list of events or a chronological timeline of your life (or your parents’ or grandparents’ lives), that is something your descendents can draw on.

Image from Flikr Creative Commons via Scott Davies

Image from Flikr Creative Commons via Scott Davies

To start, I recommend writing down 5-10 ideas. That’s a great start. Continue to add to that list as you go about your day and your week. Keep a small notebook with you to jot down ideas, notes, impressions, descriptions, etc. Write down two or three quick phrases that come to mind. Keep the thoughts loose. Maybe just write, “Trip to Cape May with the cousins” or “Hunting snakes with Dad.” Maybe a few more will come to you – write those down, too.

One of those notes may start to take shape in your mind. Try to remember the specific details—the weather that day, what you were wearing, how you felt doing that activity or being with those people. Just keep writing phrases and don’t worry about making it feel like a story just yet. You might write, “Hot weather and lots of mosquitoes at the beach. Kids in the water all day long. Everyone got sunburned.” Later, you can fill in the transitions and descriptions that make this story feel like a whole narrative.

Another good way to get ideas is to go through old pictures or albums and make some of the same notes as you remember—what you were doing that day, why you were smiling and your brother wasn’t, etc.

Give it a try. You may get hooked on the memoir.

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Published in: on April 20, 2013 at 5:28 am  Comments (10)  
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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Every time I pick up a pen, in a way I write a memoir. My stories all contain parts of wo I am, and incidents I have suffered or experienced. I’m not uniquein that. Most of us are constantly writing memoirs of one kind or another. Liked your atricle. :) Maybe I’ll try a memoir sometime…. no, too painful.

    • Very true, Patrick. We all do write parts of ourselves into our fiction. In fact, I fictionalized my grandmother’s story, because it was easier for me to step back and be more objective. (Also to make it a little more interesting and readable!)

  2. Thanks, Heidi. AND, memoir works as therapy, too. Good post.

    • Yes, it certainly does, Helen!

  3. I have played with memoir and maybe some day. Your post may have moved that day much closer. Thank you for a great post.

    • Thank you. I sure hope you do!

  4. This is a great article. Thanks for the ideas. I do believe, though, that letter writing has been replaced by blogging. There are so many people online who are revealing their daily lives and beliefs on these blogs, there will be a wealth of information out there if they remain in the blogosphere indefinitely.
    Also, when I was doing genealogy, I would google a name and that person’s birth and death dates. The stuff that would come up would be incredible. Some of it’s questionable, but I was able to get bits and pieces or great huge memoirs depending upon how verbose a person wanted to be.
    I fully agree with you, Heidi. Even if you don’t think your life is interesting or that anybody would be interested, write it down anyway. You may never know who in the future will find what you’ve written as a verdant pathway into another place and time.

    • Thanks, Sue. I agree, blogging and Facebook/Twitter etc. are probably the “diaries” of the present/future. Some people write down EVERYTHING! Hope their descendents are interested. LOL

  5. […] Why Write a Memoir? (heidiwriter.wordpress.com) […]

  6. Thank you, Helen.


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