Saturday, August 29, 2009

Writing Your Memoirs by Guest Blogger - Hawley Roddick

Author of Memoirs: Saving the Stories of Your Life and Work

Three Ways to Just Say No to Memoir-Writer’s Block

Did your grandparents write their memoirs? If they did, are you glad? If they didn’t, do you wish they had? Have you written your own memoir?

To write your memoir is to create a unique legacy—a lasting record of your life and of what you learned along the way. And when people you care about read your reminiscences, they journey with you as you try to make sense of your experiences. They even may become better able to make sense of their own lives.

Yet despite general agreement that memoirs are blessings, people find scores of reasons not to write their own. If you’re in that particular crowd, take heart. Here are some ideas to diminish or demolish blocks (excuses) that separate wishful thinkers from the journey of a lifetime: writing a memoir.

Excuse 1: My life isn’t interesting enough to write about.

As Mark Twain said, there is no such thing as an uninteresting life.
Each life is, after all, not just the events that outsiders observe but also the inner experiences of the person looking out through the eyes that others look into. No two people (not even identical twins) experience events in exactly the same way. Childbirth is, for example, commonplace. Yet each birth seems like a miracle, and the arrival of a daughter or son is a peak experience for the parents. How could your kids be bored reading your accounts of their arrivals? The story is about them, too! In fact, your entire story is also theirs because you’re their parent.

To get over any self-consciousness about writing about yourself honestly, just remember that we all have a lot more in common than we often realize, and writing about our lives gives us and our readers new perspectives. It’s a way of processing experiences and bonding with others. Moreover, it influences the way we are remembered.

Excuse 2: I’ve had painful or private experiences that I don’t want to relive or reveal.

No one but you decides what to share in your memoir. While writing about trauma and loss can be painful, it can also be healing for you and perhaps for readers who also have unhappy memories. On the one hand, you have an implied contract with your readers to be honest. On the other hand, you don’t want to betray people, expose intimate memories, or cause rifts.

One way to deal with the question of how much truth to tell and how to tell it is to write first without censoring yourself. Later, read what you wrote and decide how much of it to share. Writing a memoir is a process that is in itself rewarding. You don’t have to share everything you write with others. Some of it may be for you alone.

In regard to self-censorship, as a professional memoir co-author, I have had two clients tell me about first husbands their families knew nothing about. When one woman read the first draft of her memoir, she asked me to delete him. The other woman decided it was time for her adult children to know about this chapter of her life and husband #1 in her memoir.

Excuse 3: I don’t have time to write about my life starting at my birth.

You needn’t write chronologically and comprehensively. To help you get started, here are some ideas for topics (based on my book Your Memoirs: Saving the Stories of Your Life and Work):

* Who has influenced you most?

* What were your major decisions?

* Did you experience any life-changing events?

* How would you describe your education?

* What were your biggest mistakes and disappointments?

* Have you had any surprises and good luck?

* What accomplishments are you most proud of?

* Have contemporary historical events helped shape your life?

* How does your lifestyle as an adult compare to your parents’ lifestyle? To your children’s lifestyle?

* What do you want most for those you love?

* Have extended family members and close friends been significant?

* What objects in your home mean the most to you and why?

* What are your favorite sayings?

* How do you relax?

* Did you ever almost die?

* If you could relive one period of your life, which would you choose and why?

* If you had the power to change the past, what would you change?

* How would you most like to be remembered?

Choose any or all of these questions to answer. Add any others that occur to and appeal to you. Write by hand or on a computer. Or record your memories and have a professional transcriber put your words on paper. Tell as much or as little as you like. The how and the how much don’t matter. But you and your life story matter—to people who matter to you.

And by the way, the best time to start a memoir is today!

1 comment:

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