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Telling Your Story: Tips for Writing Your Memoir

Writing your memoir is a great way to preserve family history.  Many people think their life is too mundane to share.  You don’t have to have lived a miserable childhood, suffered some tragic fate or hobnobbed with the rich and famous to write your memoir.  Everyone has a story to tell.  Telling your story is a great way to preserve your legacy and show others how you came to be the person you are today. In addition others will learn valuable life lessons from your experiences.

It does not have to be a Pulitzer Prize novel like Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes or a great family saga like Alex Haley’s Roots that is published for the world to see.   Just write down your recollections of people, places and events in your life and share it with your family and friends. 

 My mother wrote her memoir in which she described her life growing up and living in Washington, DC from the 1920′s forward.   She wrote it out in long-hand on notebook paper.  We typed the information, supplemented it with pictures and other memorabilia and had it copied and bound at the local copy store.   My mother’s memoir is truly a family treasure that can be passed on to future generations.

In addition to preserving family history, writing your memoir is also a great way to preserve local history.  Florence Coleman Bryant wrote her memoir titled Memoirs of Country Girl which contains her recollections of growing up in a farming community in Caroline County, Virginia during the Depression. I used the book as a resource when researching Union High School in Caroline County, Virginia in preparation for writing a book. Ms. Bryant’s memories of Caroline County and Union High were a value asset to preserving the history of the county and school.

Here are a few tips for writing your memoir:

  1. Pick an area of focus.  It is not necessary tell your life story in chronological order starting at birth.  You can write about a particular time period in your life, a particular event, or a person who influenced you.  Your memoir can be a collection of unrelated stories about your life.
  2. Just write.  Your first objective is to get your memories on paper.  You can either type or write them, whichever you find easiest.  Make a list of memories as they occur to you.  Don’t worry about the details, spelling, grammar, punctuation. You can make changes later. Just let your thoughts flow and write.
  3. Be Yourself. Write in the first person in your natural voice.
  4. Take Your Time.  Don’t’ try to write everything at once.  Write for awhile, put it down and come back to it later.  Some people find it useful to write every day for at a certain time in a special place.  Others write whenever a thought comes to them.  Keep a pen and paper or digital recorder with you at all times so you can record your memories when they occur.
  5. Be truthful but tactful.  You want to be truthful but it is not necessary to write a tell-all novel that spills the family secrets or divulges all your personal business.  Some  information may be too personal or painful to share.
  6. Be gracious.  Refrain from make disparaging remarks about others.  Be aware that the statements you make will impact their life. Be sure you are able to support what you say.
  7. Use photographs and memorabilia to jog your memory.  Look through photo albums, scrapbooks and memorabilia and write down what you remember.
  8. Use periodicals to jog your memory. Browse magazines and newspapers and make a list of national, state and local events.  Write down your memories of these events and the impact they had on your life.
  9. Listen to music. Listen to old songs and write your memories as they come to you.
  10. Fill in the details.  After your finish the draft add some background to put your story in the proper context. Searching the internet is a good place to find information. Search for events, people and places you mentioned in your story.  Do research to confirm your recollection of historical facts or well-known events is accurate. For each story you have written, ask yourself: What was the occasion?  Who was involved? When did the event occur?  Where did it take place?   How was my life impacted by the event?
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