Your life story? Matters or doesn’t matter? It depends…
Yes, write down any or all of it. My motto is “you lived to tell it!”
There are many, many rewards for you that come from recalling and writing down your own memories. Some people who have done this say it was cathartic, emotionally healing and freeing. Others “enjoy the ride,” the process that prompts the re-living of experiences and relationships that were so meaningful at one time and can be recalled for pure nostalgic enjoyment. Most people I’ve talked with have someone in mind, perhaps a grandchild, who they want to share a piece of themselves with, or feel it’s important to record a slice of family history. Also, you probably know that as a category of books, the memoir genre is very popular, many thousands of memoirs being sold on Amazon or Barnes & Noble each year.
But, a memoir is not the same as an autobiography.
If you want to use your own life as material for a memoir that other people, those who don’t know you personally, would be interested in reading, you must write an engaging story, one that isn’t afraid to dive deep into imagery and emotion. Also, a memoir isn’t an autobiography because it’s not a chronicle of your whole life; it could be a story about an event, a period of time when you played a particular role, or it may only be a thorough excavation of one moment.
A single moment? Yes. And these are often the best stories. These are about transformational moments when things were like this…and then, in an instant, things were like that.
That story is not about change as much as it is about a shift. An internal shift vs. an external change.
Below, a note someone at some time wrote to someone who wanted to have their life story published. They had some “fascinating” stories and “extraordinary experiences” to share with the world and inquired about publication.
I care not that you met Jack and three weeks later moved from your grubby little flat into his mansion where you soaked in a tub so large you’d never even imagined such a thing existed.
Yes, your life changed…that is, your circumstances changed in a big way. So what? What’s that got to do with the price of tea, that is, something that could potentially affect me and my world. How can your own, unique words touch my soul?
You write well enough, but I don’t care how brilliantly you describe the dingy 800-sq-ft apartment that your landlord had apparently contracted with mice to keep its floors clean.
I don’t care how you worked extra shifts so you could afford to go to the theater. (But did one of the films touch your heart, show you what was meaningful, and alter the course you chose for your life?)
Okay, okay, I get that what happened after you met Jack led to you sitting in a sparkling, huge kitchen, eating out of a large tub of strawberry yoghurt. Your circumstances changed—got it.
But do you remember when you stopped lying? Instead of spewing lies of all colors and sizes to anyone and no one in particular, there was a line drawn in the sand. And you never again stepped over it, never let a lie escape your lips, even if it, out of habit, formed in your mind.
I know you can recall the time you answered the phone with a smile and hung up two minutes later, sobbing, in utter despair. How did that earth-shattering news change you as a person?
Privately, with your minister, you recounted the experience you had when walking in the forest, the voice you heard that washed over you with a sense of profound peace like you had never felt before, and how that day is what gave you clarity around choosing to lead the medical mission to Africa.
And you’ve never told anyone before about when, at your mother’s funeral, your dad whom you hadn’t seen in six years came up to you and said, “I need to tell you something, I’m not your father.”
Things were like this…and then, in a moment, things were like that.
Suddenly and weirdly, like when shown an image and instructed to stare at it until it changes, your perspective seamlessly shifts from seeing “all the steps are leading up” to “all of the steps are leading down” or “all the steps became box tops!” Maybe you witnessed, by staring at only one drawing, an old lady becoming an image of a young woman in a hat. That kind of shift in your life is memoir-worthy.
Spend some time recalling such events, experiences, or moments from your own life.
Here is my list of examples of transformative moments:
- Onset of emotional terror
- Onset of emotional relief or safety
- Onset of empathy
- Connection at humanity level
- Being “saved” – a deep sense of belonging to a bigger game, that there is a power greater than oneself
- Hearing the truth, a big truth, for the first time
Write about one of these times. You do not have to share it with anyone. So write your heart out. It’s a draft. You’ll choose later if you want to share it, work on polishing it, or perhaps craft several of these to build a memoir to get published.
At your service as your writing coach, editor, and/or publisher, Barbara Dee