Life is filled with trials, tribulations, joys and triumphs. We are often in a constant state of motion and rarely look back and take the time to reflect on how we got to where we are today and what made us the person we are. We take photographs to capture moments in time, and these snapshots can trigger memories and connect us to the past, but it’s also important to write about our lives.
Writing stories about your life can bring the same satisfaction as looking at pictures. The memories can help you understand, discover and even heal. Your stories can serve as a gift and a moment in time to be shared with family, friends and future generations.
When I ask my memoir writing students or clients why they want to write their life stories, most say because they want to share their past with their children and grandchildren. That may be the reason they start, but they end up with other unexpected rewards — they gain self-knowledge and enjoy reliving their memories.
How to Get Started
A drawing teacher once said, “Drawing is just making marks on paper.” I tell new memoir writers the same — that writing is just putting words on paper. And like drawing, the finished product is art: something unique and beautiful.
To get started, you take it one step or word at a time. Try to write at least 30 minutes three times a week, or set a goal of two or three pages by the end of each week. The stories don’t have to be in chronological order. They don’t even have to be full stories. They can be thoughts, journal entries, poems or snippets of a broken memory. You could even explain what was happening in your old photographs. In essence, it doesn’t matter what you write. Getting into the habit of writing anything at all is the most important step.
Danelle Lund of Mount Pleasant started taking memoir writing classes several years ago and recently realized that she had collected 48 stories. We put them together and printed a memoir book titled “Color Me Happy.” Inspired by his wife, Danelle’s husband, Ivan, is now working on a book about his time in the Navy. He writes a few pages every week. On Fridays, he emails the document to me. I edit the newest installment and offer questions and encouragement.
Many people are hesitant to begin because they say they are not great writers. However, just like you don’t have to be a professional photographer to take memorable pictures of your family, vacation or life, you do not need to be a professional writer to record your memories on paper. For those who have an aversion to writing, you can tell your stories to a trusted listener, who can then ghostwrite the stories for you.
Now that you know the life-enhancing benefits and how to get started, what are you waiting for? There is no better time to start your fun writing adventure. Grab a pen and paper or keyboard and get inspired.
Tips and Prompts to Get Started
- Set a goal of writing at least 30 minutes, three times weekly.
- Create a timeline of important events in your life.
- Describe your childhood room (or house or neighborhood).
- Write about your favorite vacation — where did you go, who did you go with and what did you see?
- Pick an influential person in your life and give as many details as possible about how he or she made a difference.
- How did you meet your spouse or best friend?
- What was your first car? Include lots of details — how you got it, what color, how you felt driving it, where you drove it and who rode in it with you.
- Describe your parents and each of your grandparents in detail, such as unique personality traits, what they wore, how they treated you and what they liked to do.
- Pick a friend from any time in your life and write a story about something you did with that friend.
Tonya McGue has facilitated Writing Your Memoir classes for several years. She also provides the following memoir writing services: editing, coaching, ghostwriting, book layout and design and book printing coordination. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tonya McGue