I recently wrote an article in the fall edition of the CWC (California Writer's Club) fall newsletter, here it is:
Why You Should Write a Memoir
Face it. You’re not getting any younger. Once you’re gone, your stories won’t be there the way only you can tell them—unless they’re written down. Do it now. One never knows when one’s faculties might fade. Write a scene about one of the many tales you’ve often given voice to about the time you “did such-and-such and then ...” Those memories are important to put on paper or store in your computer while you can still recall them. Look at a few old photos or listen to music you loved to resurrect forgotten feelings and the memories will come flooding back.
“So who cares about what I have to say?” you may ask. Maybe your family will. Or maybe they won’t. But do it anyway. Leaving a record of your life while you’re still kickin’ will do more than prove you existed. It will teach or inspire someone who’s waiting to receive your message. Find your stories and write them for posterity, your unknown readers, and for yourself.
Do you keep a journal? Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Fredrick Douglass all kept journals. That’s an advantage for recalling details—and for your health. Research by James Pennebaker (Writing to Heal, 2004) has proven that those who write about themselves have stronger immune systems, better sleep, improved mental health, lower blood pressure, and reduced pain.
An effective way to find your voice and help others find theirs is to write honestly about traumas you went through. Expressive writing helps reevaluate life, grief, and distress. Once a traumatic experience is on the page, it has less power in our lives. For years I felt ashamed that I’d become pregnant before marriage—a big “no-no” in the 60s. When I wrote about my situation, guilt lifted from my shoulders. Compassion for the naïve 23-year-old me filled my heart. When women began talking more openly about the sexual harassment and abuse they’d experienced, healing and prosecutions followed.
Writing about one’s own life shows us who we are and opens a different vista for others. People learn from new points of view. Every life is unique. The lessons you learned should be shared with others. Many readers will identify with experiences you’ve had. Reading your words can help them face things they can’t or don’t want to encounter. Fans who’ve read my memoirs tell me that they feel like they’ve traveled to the Andes as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Begin by making a list of the important events in your life. Maybe a letter, a smell, or a garment will produce a memory. Once you begin, forgotten incidents come bubbling up from your unconscious. You might begin with a question: “How did I go from ______to ______?” Or with an anecdote. Plot the turning points of your life, your peak experiences, or any events and activities which have been important to you. After you get a few incidents down, you may notice a theme. Or you might begin with a theme: how your seven divorces came about, the five dogs you’ve raised, or the 10 places where you’ve lived. Regardless of where you begin, trust that whatever rises to the surface is what needs to be examined. But be aware that unresolved issues often show up. If the subject matter is too traumatic, you might need a therapist to help you sort through it. The effort is worthwhile. You’ll be rewarded by ah-ha moments when you recognize the connections between parts of your life. You’ll discover both good and bad qualities about yourself. Progress from anecdotes to an essay to a chapter and end up with an entire manuscript. If you’re still around when your memoir is published, you may be pleasantly surprised by the effect your words have on others.
Writing about your life moves you into a deeper and more authentic sense of self. When the mind is put to creative use, the sensation of freedom can be off the charts. The constraints of what we thought possible evaporate. After two memoirs, I’m now motivated to write a third—this one will be about my travels around the world.
Mark Twain said, “There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside the dullest exterior there is a drama, comedy, and a tragedy.”
Write your memoir.
Evelyn LaTorre is a memoir writer living in Fremont, CA.