A couple of my out of state friends have decided to write their autobiographies or memoirs. I’m quite happy they are, because this fact gives me moral support in my own planning for the same type of project. The three of us are taking our own, customized, individual approaches to the job of writing them.
It turns out that there is a renaissance in memoir writing in North America and much of Europe. In today’s alienating culture, people feel the need to express their own stories. The telling of a personal or family life experiences is one of the oldest forms of passing along legacies.
If one wishes to write a memoir that people want to read, it’s a good idea to refresh one’s knowledge of good, creative writing. It’s good to remember to address the technicalities of theme selection, form, plot, voice, character development, and scene.
In addition, one needs to write honestly and not embellish the stories. Truth is much more compelling than fiction when telling one’s life story. When I read an autobiography of a person who lived long ago, I’m interested in actual life circumstances. What was it like to live in the country or city the person spent her or his life in? How did they fit in or deviate from that culture? How did they live out each normal day? What were holiday celebrations like? I particulaly enjoy finding out what sort of technoligical artifacts the person used and their modes of transportation.
Was the person affected by major events of her or his day and age. For instance, if they lived in the United States in the 1860s, how did the Civil War affect them? People who lived through the Great Depression in the 1930s had many harrowing tales about surviving and sometimes thriving. There was no need to exaggerate their hard times. On the other hand, maybe the person had the good fortune to live during times of plenty, did she or he share in the good times? If so, how did they do so?
One of the things a person writing her or his memoir learns is just how much all of us have in common. We might believe that a particular event only happened to us alone, or the way we lived life was completely unique. When the writer takes up the task of writing in the memoir she find a new perspective. There is often the discovery that they share much in common with other people. The act of writing and editing ones work is revelatory and cathartic.
If you are thinking about writing your own memoir, you don’t need to come from a famous or eccentric family. There is no requirement that you lived through some sort of harrowing war or civil uprising. What kind of life will people want to read about?
All of us had a childhood, we’ve all attended public or private schools. We’ve had romantic crushes, maybe we went steady or had an affair. Many of us got married and have or had a family. Perhaps there was some domestic strife or a divorce. Most of us do or did some sort of work for a living.
What did you do? Maybe you have some sort of health issue or suffered a serious accident. Were you in the military? Do you or did you ever volunteer for a cause you believe in? Any one of these subjects can be the seed for a deeply compelling story.
The question to ask and answer is what was it about your life that you find most meaningful to yourself? What can you factually tell people about how you lived it? What gives you the most grief? What gives you the most joy?
The memoir writer can organize the process by sitting quietly in a favorite place with pen and paper and write down reminisces. You can simply list them briefly in outline form, or you might think of one instance and expand on it right away. The point is, get it down on paper.
People who keep a diary, journal, or a personal blog have a leg up on the process. It is then just a matter of selecting events and/or condensing the content into a manageable size, coherently, for a reader-friendly account. For most of us, personal diaries are the greatest assets we have to help us create our memoirs. If you’re not keeping a diary, why not begin, now? You can even create one retrospectively.
Regarding diaries, many memoirs are written in the form of diaries. Perhaps the most famous one is The Diary of a Young Girl aka The Diary of Anne Frank. This basic format is easily adaptable to the life of any person. You may consider this format for your own memoir.
Other approaches might include a scrapbook style or memory book. You could tell your story as a narrative. If writing is not your “thing”, you could put together a slide show about your life or your family’s life. Some people create collages or commemorative quilts.
However you plan to compose your memoir, check out the many resources on-line and in your community to help you along.
There are scrapbooking clubs, family tree groups, video memoir workshops, writing classes and clubs, newsletters, and so on. Find the format and style you like best, then follow through. If a memoir project is something you sincerely love, the process will be much easier than you ever expected.