Most people think that memoir writing is all about the dreaded word “me.” I know, it sounds so self-indulging to spend so much time thinking about one self. But in actuality, the people who do come and write about themselves are some of the most unselfish people I know. Imagine this: examining your life, sorting through some of those dark closets that you would like to remain closed, and opening them up to the light of self-examination. Then imagine writing about it and sharing it with a small group of friends that are also on the same journey that you are on. The process of memoir writing is indeed a process. You take a flicker of a memory, examine the past and see how that bit of truth has helped you become the person you are today. The wonderful piece of the puzzle with memoir writing is that it is truly allowing the past to guide you to see who and how you are today. The more we review our lives the more our sense of personal identity deepens. We realize then that we have achieved more than we thought we had, and this helps to bolster our feeling of self-worth.
In refocusing our lens on our lives we more readily come to terms with ourselves. The jagged mountaintops of the past shrink to mere molehills now. We look back more sympathetically, and the where-did-I-go-wrong? Feelings begin to evaporate. The gift of memoir is not only for your family, but the gift of the journey is one that you give yourself.
People often come to my memoir class thinking they need to write about the most meaningful, most dramatic or most life-changing moments in their life’s story. Like the joy they felt with the birth of their first child, the difficulties of going through treatment for a serious illness, or the delight of a special anniversary. But there are hundreds of moments in every life worth capturing in a memoir or autobiography. They are the ordinary activities of life, made fascinating by the passage of time and the way the world changes around us. How you got to school or what you paid for coffee and a doughnut as a young person might not have seemed worth noting at the time, but today, your grandkids have a very different story to tell! The contrast between how you grew up and their lives today is really quite amazing. And imagine the differences possible in another generation!
These are the sorts of details that bring a memoir to life and make it relevant to younger generations of readers. So you shouldn’t feel like every chapter in your life’s story needs to be monumental – it just needs to be full of little stories and reminiscences that speak about you and the times you lived in.
I encourage everyone to start with recording their own journey.