Ways to Begin Your Memoir

Making Memories

You’ve read the previous posts and you really want to tell your own or your family’s story. Here are some ways to get started.

 Approach: How do you want to approach your project? 

   Look through published memoirs at the library or bookstore to see how others have done it. You can find memoirs of local interest for sale in museums, gift stores, even restaurants. Leaf through such books to see how those authors dealt with their stories. Talk to friends and acquaintances who have written about their lives.

  You can also do an Internet search for online memoirs that you can view for free. This link will take you to a list of 104 sites that legally offer such e-books, free: http://www.techsupportalert.com/free-books-biography .

Purpose: Does your story have a broad-enough interest for commercial publication? Or will you write for a smaller audience? Do you have the resources to self-publish with one of the excellent short-run publishers now available? Or would you rather create a limited number of photocopied booklets for your immediate family or a PDF you can provide to family and friends as an e-book?

Start small: Choose a single topic to explore—your best friend in grade school, your first job, how your family celebrated Christmas. Sometimes a recent event can lead you back into your past to explore related memories. To organize your project, keep a list of topics you’d like to cover, and add to it as you go. You needn’t write down everything that ever happened to you. Long lists of facts, dates, and names will bore your readers, and yourself as well.

Show the personalities, appearances, and mannerisms of the people you mention. Add specific details to set the scenes, using dialogue and sensory details of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. If you let readers know the humiliation or sadness you felt at being left out of a game or your delight in receiving a long-hoped-for bike, you will inject vital emotion into your story.

Memories dull with time. Sharpen them through conversations with family members or by reviewing photos and family documents. Find timelines on the Internet, or look up old newspaper files at the library to review what was happening in the time period you’re writing about. You’ll be amazed at the memories and the details that flood back once you get started.
  Remember, life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Yours holds the makings of a great story. All you have to do is tell it.

Sharing Memories

Telling Your Story, Part 4…How Can You Start?

Memories! Get Started.

        “I’ve always wanted to write my story, but I’m just too busy!”

         How many times have we used the “too busy” excuse for putting off something that needs doing? And how many times have we heard, “We can always find time for the things we really want to do?”

        If you’re one of those people who would love to pass down their family or personal stories to their children and grandchildren, here are a few practical ways to start:

         Jot memories on scraps of paper as they come to mind and drop them into a folder. Or do this on a computer. You could set up folders for “What I know about my ancestors,” “My birth and earliest years,” “Grade school memories,” “Family life,” “High school and college,” or whatever you find important in your life. When your folders are well-filled, your book is also well-begun.

        Set aside small but regular blocks of time to work on your stories. It’s satisfying and surprising to see you can accomplish in daily half-hour sessions. Or maybe you can reserve Saturdays or at least a couple of hours on your days off.

        Keep a continuing notebook where you write notes and stories for later revision.

        Tape or video record your memories, then transcribe and organize them.

        You needn’t tell everything. Many people think a personal history should start at the beginning and go to the end. But that makes for tedious reading. Carefully choose your incidents to help develop a theme—your struggles to accomplish your dreams, the people and events that made you who you are, or the lessons you want to pass on to your readers. You’ll leave out way more than you tell.

        My own memoir, A Logger’s Daughter: Growing Up in Washington’s Woods, is a series of wide-ranging essays that together tell stories of growing up and lessons learned, each with an overarching theme. The theme of one essay called “Small Wonders” is that God provides for all His creatures, human or otherwise, and that each depends on others for life itself. Each incident I wrote about contributed to my love and respect for nature.

        Methods of writing memoirs are as individual as the people who write them. Find a method that fits into your schedule and begin. When you’re finished, you might find that you’ve written a memoir that will find a place in the hearts of thousands of readers who don’t even know you! For sure, your family down through generations will appreciate your efforts.