Don’t you wish that your parents and grandparents would write their memoirs? Give your family the gift of writing down moments of meaning to you. The beauty of writing about your own life is that you choose what is important.
William Zinsser has written a wonderful guide to get you started on your memoir, Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past The book consists of short vignettes on Zinsser’s days of writing for the Herald Tribune, teaching at Yale and writing for Look Magazine. While he entertains you with his life story, he shows you how to write about your own. He distills memoir writing to this simple exercise:
- Close your eyes and choose a vivid memory or anecdote.
- When you have finished capturing the moment – completely, beginning to end – put it in a drawer.
- The next day, choose a new memory and write.
- Do this for a few months.
- Then, read all of your pieces. You will find your voice, your style and your story. String these ‘pearls’ together, and you will have created a memoir. This book is not new (first edition, 1987, updated in 1995), but it is timeless advice and a wonderful read. Find Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past.
Legacy is another resource. When writers’ block leaves your paper blank, Linda Spence provides a practical guide to surfacing memories which have been stored away – the recollections which make up a life. Legacy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence.
You can read great memoirs for inspiration. We have loved Jill Ker Conway’s honest, vivid autobiographies (Road from Coorainand True North). She has written a book about women’s memoirs, When Memory Speaks. She suggests that women and men approach memoirs differently. “Men produce epic adventures, in which the testosterone-driven protagonist battles against nature and society for control of his fate, while women are quicker to record the trials of domestic life and evolving consciousness.”
The first edition was published in 1987, but it is worth a read today. When Memory Speaks.
Finally, if you are really short on time, try writing a six word memoir. See the ASE article.
Hint: If you want to inspire someone to write, send them the Zinsser book and a journal. Our favorite journal has refillable pages at Graphic Image, on sale.