Recently, I presented a mini-talk about writing memoir at a Death Café. The event was held at an assisted living complex, so I knew that most of the attendees would be seniors—people with a lot of life behind them and, therefore, a lot of stories to tell. My presentation was meant to inspire folks to put pen to paper and tell something about themselves, something that might, in turn, inspire their loved ones when they are gone.
Some people think their own lives are not important enough or fascinating enough to be written about. In her book The Memoir Project, Marion Roach Smith quoted the novelist Flannery O’Connor as having said, “Anyone who survives childhood has enough material to write for the rest of her life.” Everyone has a story in them, and we all love a good story.
Writing memoir is a way to be known by other members of the human family. Writing your story on paper or in a computer file creates a legacy that can live on after you. An ethical will is a format that leaves something greater than mere possessions and wealth to your descendants. It is a statement of your values and beliefs, an attempt to summarize your experiences and share what your life has been about.
Roach Smith also says, “Writing memoir is about telling the truth.” Naturally, our memories are not perfect, and our perceptions are always skewed by circumstances and opinions and dearly held beliefs. Still, your responsibility is to write your life the way you remember it. Write about the feelings you had and the sensations you felt and the decisions you made at the time things happened to you. Let it all come out. The emphasis here is on the telling—the sharing of who you are, recounting your very personal, unique, never-to-be-reproduced-by-anyone-else story.
I had the privilege of leading a weekly memoir writing group at our local oncology support house. We delved into our memories and put them into words. Joining such a group can give you a structure to work with, in case you need a little prodding and inspiration. Sharing your work with others and listening to their recollections actually does bolster courage. You might find a writing group at your local library or book store.
This is how you begin: Buy a cheap spiral notebook—nothing too precious—and a pen that feels good in your hand. Or open a blank page on your laptop. Turn on some pleasant background music, if you like. Think about one day, one person from your past, one incident. Now tell us a story.