There was a Wall Street Journal article published just before the end of 2022 that caught my eye, titled: The Way You Tell Your Life Story Matters, Start Now. The opening paragraph had a quote: Death steals everything except our stories, by the poet Jim Harrison. But the article cautions if we are not careful, death can steal those, too.
Why consider writing a personal memoir
Isn’t that only for like, Elton John? Is it morbid to be thinking about death already?
We are not immortal. But that question aside, look at your life. When you think about it, it really is a series of stories, including the one being written right now. Then the ink trails off into blank pages with no promises for how the future will unfold. Most of us spend so much time trying to write the future, when this is a futile effort because as you probably have learned, the future has a bunch of plot twists we never can fully imagine.
The most powerful part of your own personal memoir is it is your story – in your words. And memories will fade. Even now, when I remember parts of my life, there are moments that fade, fuzzy faces, and names I struggle to remember. There are triumphs and setbacks that form the essence of who we are. We can draw upon those and fuel our faith that yes, we did it before, we can do it again.
Why I am doing it
I remember watching a perfume ad when I was little. It was a silhouette of a woman, and I remember very little about it except for that she said, “I have lived a life full of intrigue and wonder, full of moments that have taken my breath away.”
I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old, but I thought to myself – that’s what I want. I want that intrigue-wonder-breathtaking life. The more I started to think back on this question raised by the WSJ article, the more I realized that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I did have that intrigue-wonder-adventure life – and it’s far from over. But the parts that are keep slipping away. And so, I started writing my memoir, right on this website:
It’s very much a work in progress, and this is the only time I will even mention it for a while, but it is there and someday it will all come together and make sense, but like every journey it started somewhere. Here is where you can find my “starter” personal memoir:
So if you want to consider writing a personal memoir, where should you start? What to consider?
- Start with a specific goal in mind. Before you begin writing, think about why you want to write a memoir. Are you writing to share your story with your family, to leave a legacy for future generations, or to explore a particular theme or period of your life? Knowing your purpose will help you focus your writing and make the process more manageable. The WSJ article suggests examples like sharing how you got on a career path; what you are trying to do with your life and how it is working out; your biggest triumphs and failures, and what you have learned from them, and both the wonderful and awful things that have happened to you.
- Gather your materials. Before you begin writing, gather any documents or mementos that will help you remember and write about your past. This may include photographs, letters, diaries, or other personal items.
- Decide on the structure of your memoir. Will your memoir be chronological, or will you focus on a specific theme or period of your life? Will you use a linear narrative or a more fragmented structure? The structure of your memoir will depend on the story you want to tell and the themes you want to explore.
- Write from the heart. Your memoir should be personal and reflective, so don’t be afraid to be honest and open in your writing. Share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, even if they are difficult or uncomfortable to talk about.
- Show, don’t tell. Instead of simply telling the reader what happened, use descriptive language and vivid imagery to bring your story to life. Use dialogue and sensory details to create a sense of time and place.
Also you don’t have to write – you can record, you can video document, you can assemble a collage of pictures that tell a story. As long as it is published and shared in some tangible form, even if it is more closed and private to certain family members or groups of friends.
Remember, your story is worth sharing, and you never know who it may inspire or touch.