Updated: May 18, 2021
“How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” – E.M. Forster
Curious about memoir? Unsure where to begin? Wondering who would – or should – read it? Start here!
Please know that your memoir is NOT the same as your autobiography, the actual-factual, chronological account of your life as preserved in state archives or on old report cards. It’s NOT a comprehensive timeline of all your life events. It’s NOT written by someone else.
Rather it’s your first-person take on a specific time, say your early childhood or that summer in Tibet. It’s your spin on a meaningful relationship. And it’s full of feelings. A memoir is your story, complete with heartbeat, trembling tummy, giddy love, choking fear -- and the feeling you can fly. Or want to die. It’s focused. And it’s honest. And it’s you.
And, no, you don’t need to publish it. Most folks don’t. Most don’t even share them. So why bother?
1. To Remember. Memoir means memory, and maybe it’s just me, but mine isn’t so hot anymore. I’ve reread my journals from only 10 years ago and startle to find details I’d forgotten. The clock is ticking. If it’s important, write it down. Now. James Thurber once said, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” Perfecting comes later.
2. To Reflect and Evaluate. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates decided back in 399 BCE. Now that we’ve reached that certain âge and have eased off the throttle, we can take time to ponder where we’ve been, find the patterns, savor the good times, and perhaps rectify the not-so-good. There’s still time to rewrite the ending of your story…
3. To Bequeath your history. What do your children and grandchildren need to know? Stories from the Old Country? Heroism and deprivation during military service? Grammy’s prom before Grampy came along? Life on the farm? Remember to explain saddle shoes, wringer washers, and Howdy Doody!
4. To Connect with others outside family. If our families show little interest in our legacy or we choose not to share it, we can create a new tribe such as a memoir group. Sharing our stories with a cohort creates a shared history, validates our life experiences, and builds new friendships.
5. To Celebrate your life. A memoir can be your thank you to the Universe or Higher Power for your unique life. You’ve loved and learned and flubbed up and pushed and redeemed yourself – and you wouldn’t have missed this trip for anything! Revel in gratitude.
6. Publish – or not. This is the gift you give yourself – an honest appraisal of your authentic life. Publishing can be as simple as printing and collating the pages for family gifts. Finding an agent and traditional publisher requires a compelling story and perseverance. But that’s another blog…
Invitation – Now it’s your turn!
Treat yourself to a pretty journal (T.J. Maxx and Marshalls have loads of inexpensive ones) and a comfortable pen.
Write one page about your name:
Where it came from
Who bestowed it
Whether you’ve changed it
How you feel about it.