Memoir writing: what will you really remember?

February 10, 2016

Ruth with her mum, Marie Dunham in the mid-1950s; and Ruth with her children - Troy and Maree, 1975.

How do you feel about no-one really knowing about you? Your descendents… future generations with unanswered questions dreaming how it must have been for you, guessing and never really knowing.

Seriously, will we really remember all those amazing persona, unique experiences as we get older? What would you do if you realised you can’t remember half the things you loved to do when you were young?

What about all the challenges, disappointments, achievements… all the things you strive for all these years, floating off into infinity.

Well there are ways around this and it is called memoir writing. Like many people I talk to, we ponder, procrastinate and think about documenting ‘something about ourselves’, leaving a legacy of self, but rarely get to do act out our thoughts or know how to go about it.

I was like this a few years ago then decided to do something about it. I am now leaving stories for my grandchildren and their future children so they can be forever passed down.

The difficult part is both my parents have now passed away and no more opportunity to ask “whatever happened to…..?” or “how do you do this….?” It’s too late.

Well I began like this and so should you, it is really quite simple:

  • At any time you choose, pick up a pen & paper or your laptop;
    Recommend a dedicated note book or folder;
  • Think about something you did when you were younger and write one word;
  • Then two or three words on how you felt at the time and let the journey begin;
  • Do not think about structure at this stage (this was always a burden for me);
  • You don’t have to dig deep into the memory bank, just let it happen and you will find you will search for more;
  • Don’t worry about chronological order – you put it together like a jigsaw at another time.

I continued to make copious notes, bits and pieces about memories that surface at the oddest of times, even wrote poems.

Where to seek guidance:

However in time I was at a loss on how to progress further and through another colleague who happened to be a writer I found my main inspiration.

I attended workshops held by Patti Miller, founder of the Life Stories Workshops in Australia. Patti is a teacher of Memoir, an established writer and Australia’s most experienced life-writing teacher. I attended Patti Miller’s workshop “Year of the Memoir” followed by an advanced workshop in Paris.

The Parisian workshop took me onto another fascinating journey of discovery on writers in Paris. I talk more about this in my blog on “The Importance of Memoirs”.

Patti’s books became my writing bibles—“Writing Your Life-a journey of discovery” and “The Memoir Book”—and you can buy them on her website – here.

I discovered all my concerns were unfounded once I referred to my books. I found answers on how to begin, finding form, truth telling and how far does one go with the truth, will someone get hurt, bringing your story to life, finding your own voice, difficulties.

You may find other authors who can provide information but I was searching for specialists on memoir writing, however I always keep an open mind to other concepts.

Memoir versus autobiography:

Memoir writing is different to an autobiography although there is a blurry line between the two. For me an autobiography is about historical accomplishments.

Memoir is more personal—telling your story about your life, with your own perception and your interpretation, your memory.

It is yours and yours alone. I love it when I review my writing months or even years later, some of the moments I had forgotten and they all come back. Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I cry.

Oh did I mention it can be very therapeutic, addictive and you have to be prepared to take a chance!

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