An acquaintance of mine recently lost her mother. Her father had passed away ten years before. None of her parents’ friends were still living, nor were any elder relatives on either side of the family. When she lost her mother, she also lost her last chance to document the stories from her family’s past that hadn’t yet been told. She used to feel that she had all the time in the world. Now she regrets that she didn’t make more of an effort to interview her parents and relatives so she could have her parents’ memories on record for future generations to enjoy.
Take a look at today’s hottest-selling books and you’ll realize that a large number of them are memoirs. No wonder—we human beings are fascinated with lives lived by other human beings. We’ve become a reality-obsessed society with an insatiable appetite for connection through learning about the tribulations and triumphs of others: sad times, happy times, crazy times. We are particularly intrigued if we can relate any of it to our own personal life experiences.
We each live a life as unique as our fingerprints. You may believe that you’ve led a relatively uneventful life but if you take a look back at the many things you’ve experienced, it’s a sure bet that a certain percentage of the population would find some if it interesting and perhaps even meaningful. You have acres of memories warehoused inside your brain that your children—and their children—would someday enjoy reading about.
We all have stories. It’s time to tell yours.
Think about all the years that have passed since the day you were born. A lot has happened since you entered this world. Your years are a kaleidoscope of experiences, more than you are even capable of remembering. Think about all the people you’ve known, the places you’ve been, the lessons you’ve learned, the times you’ve laughed or cried or been scared, the hopes and the dreams you’ve had, the goals you’ve achieved. Your life is made up of all this and so much more; the life you’ve lived so far deserves a page of its own in your family’s history.
You don’t have to be a professional writer to create a journal of your life. If you can type at a keyboard or write longhand on paper, you are capable of documenting short stories about your life that you can eventually share with your loved ones, or simply document them for your own personal enjoyment.
You are unique; there is not another person on earth quite like you. No other human being shares the same story as yours. Even identical twins don’t share identical stories. Memories fade and that’s why it’s so important to preserve your life stories for generations to follow.
How do I begin?
My own preference is to keep a journal because writing in longhand gives me a feeling of going back in time, when we wrote our school assignments in blue-lined notebooks. Pick up an inexpensive hardcover journal at any discount store (hardcover, because it feels more like a real book) and tuck it away in a handy place. Choose the same time every week—or every day if time allows—to devote your attention to recording memories from your past. You can set a specific length of time that you’ll write, or you can simply write until you feel like stopping. Whether you write a couple of sentences, a paragraph, or several pages, turning it into a habit is key.
If you’re more comfortable writing at a keyboard, set up a journal file on your computer and add to it regularly. Again, training yourself to write on a regular basis is essential to turning it into routine behaviour.
Where do I begin?
There are several ways to kick-start the process.
There is no rule that says you have to write in any particular order. You can start with your earliest memories, or you can start writing about something that happened yesterday. As you get into the groove of journaling regularly, you’ll find that new memories will pop into your mind without much prompting.
If you need a push, try flipping through old photo albums. Think back about the events that took place in your life when specific pictures were taken. What emotions were you feeling at that time? Let your memories guide your story.
Think about a particular year and try to remember events that took place during that year. Or think back about single important world events and where you were at that time in your life. Ask just about anybody what they were doing when 9/11 happened and they’ll remember right away.
While you write, try to use descriptive words that will help the reader visualize the scene you’re describing. For example, you’re writing about a family picnic at the beach. Along with the events that took place, are there certain smells that you remember? Sounds? Emotions? A bit of dialogue will also add interest to your story. Did your dad say something funny that day? Did your mom issue one of her famous “warnings” to one of your siblings?
And don’t waste time worrying about your spelling and grammar skills; you can go back and fix up the mechanics of your story once you’ve got it all down. Aim to write in the same voice that you would use if you were talking to an old friend.
Ready to start writing your memoir?
Here are some prompts to get you started.
- When and where were you born?
- Why did your parents choose your name?
- Have your parents told you any stories about yourself as a child?
- What is your favourite family recipe?
- Did you have a childhood pet? If so, what was it and what did you call it?
- What was your favourite childhood toy? Why?
- Did you have a childhood hero?
- What school subject did you dislike? Like?
- Did/does your family have any special traditions?
- Is there a lesson that stands out most clearly when you reflect on a particular incident from your childhood?
- Is there a world event that had an impact on you while you were growing up?
- What fads do you remember from your youth?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- What was your very first job? How much were you paid?
- When did you realize that you were a grown up?
- You most memorable vacation?
- This song immediately takes you back in time…
- Talk about your hobby.
- How is the world different today from how you saw it as a child?
- Of all the lessons you learned from your parents, which was the most valuable?
- If you could do one thing differently in your life, what would it be?
- What are you most grateful for?
- What is your greatest accomplishment so far?
- What would you like to be remembered for?
- Have you wished for something that came true?