The idea of writing my first memoir came to me in my late forties while in graduate school. It was a time when I frequently found myself reflecting on the events of my childhood, growing up as the only child of two working immigrants. In the back of my mind, there seemed to be many unanswered questions. Often, it is the questioning which leads people to write their memoirs.
The actual writing process is a process of discovery. Over the years, I often thought about my grandmother's suicide. I found her dead in her bed when I was ten years old. While children take things in stride, it's only when we are in middle age that we might begin to question and wonder how we endured certain situations or events. Later in life, as adults we are more likely to look back and try to figure out and/or understand some of the events from our past.
Sometimes there is a triggering event that inspires us to write. For me, it was my first bout with cancer in 2001. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, I moved into a period of self-examination and reflection. Some relatives claimed that I was similar to my maternal grandmother, so I began to wonder why my grandmother committed suicide. I wanted to understand the trajectory of her life. It's not that I was contemplating taking my own life, but more importantly, I wanted to understand her life as a way to understand my own perspective on life, and how we both handled the turbulences in our lives.
Perhaps you have also wondered about events from your past. Or maybe friends and colleagues have heard you share a story from your past and suggested that you write about it. There are numerous reasons people become inspired to write memoir. Whether you set out to write as a legacy or decide to take the publishing route is not important to think about in the beginning. The important thing is that you set aside the time to write.
What better time to do this than in the beginning of a New Year? Writing a memoir also happens to be a New Year's resolution that you can actually keep. As a memoir writer and someone who has helped others write their own stories, I believe there are some key elements to keep in mind when thinking about writing your story.
Before setting out on your writing journey (and yes, it's a journey), think about the highlights of your life. What experiences have changed you or made you the person you are today? Write a few pages on each life-changing event. Make note of any themes running through your words and dig deeper into those themes. Write more. Keep in mind that writing a memoir is much more than retelling a story as a journalist would share your story in the newspaper or on television. What will draw the reader into your story is your own emotional response to what happened to you.
One of the advantages of being a baby boomer is that most of the stories we care to write about are those from which we might have established some distance. Along with the distance comes a more accurate perspective or sense of maturity about the event or subject. This allows for reflections and ruminations, and it is this aspect of the memoir which is especially interesting for the reader, especially if they have encountered similar experiences and need assistance navigating their own journeys. That's why some of the best memoirs are written by baby boomers.
In fact, both of my memoirs were written while in my forties and fifties, at a time when I was mature enough to reflect back onto certain aspects of my life, while wearing adult-matured glasses.
Remember that a memoir is about a slice of your life and has a theme, whether it's about overcoming an obstacle or surrendering to a situation. The story might have begun during childhood, middle age or in the baby boomer years. What I tell my students is not to get too bogged down in the writing process. As Nike says, "Just do it."
Here are some quick tips:
• Buy a journal to record your musings.
• Set a daily schedule for yourself.
• Make a list of life-changing events in your life.
• Write at least one anecdote or story a day.
• Read published memoirs for inspiration.