You tell yourself, “Someday, I’m going to write my memoirs” but “Someday” never comes. Perhaps this short narrative telling you how I have cluttered my children’s homes with hundreds of pages of my memoirs will help you get started.
This is not an essay on how to write a memoir. This is an essay containing suggestions as to how you might encourage yourself to sit down and write your own memoirs.
Over my working years, I started my memoirs on several occasions. I never got beyond “I was born at home.” I needed some structure; some format to follow. So I created a list of questions that I wish I could ask my ancestors. Then, I imagined my descendants as asking me those questions and I answer.
Here is a partial list of questions I wish I could ask my ancestors.
How did you and your spouse meet?
What did you do for entertainment?
How did you celebrate the holidays?
What did you do for work?
Tell me about some humorous situations that happened to you.
Tell Me About Your Schooling.
One at a time, I take the questions and answer them for my future descendants. Sometimes, half a page of writing will answer a question. Sometimes it takes several pages to answer a question. When I finish answering a question, I file my answer in a loose-leaf notebook and turn my attention to another question.
I do not answer the questions in chronological order. I answer them in accordance with my “mood of the moment.” I do not sort the completed narratives into chronological order. You might want to group your individual memoirs in a manner suitable to accomplishing your personal goals or to represent your personality. For example, rather than chronological order, you may choose to categorize the stories by subject.
Another source of topics that motivates me to write my memoirs occurs when I find myself telling a story for the umpteenth time. I then write out the story, and file it away with my other memoirs.
When I have about a hundred pages of memoirs, I make five copies, one for each of my children. Then, I place them in a clear-cover report binder, and give one copy to each of my children as a Christmas present.
There are other ways to motivate yourself to write memoirs. Instead of our children creating a collage of photographs to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary, our children asked me to write a booklet telling about our years together. I wrote about our homes, our children in their younger days, “our”songs, the books we read to our children, memorable family vacations, family automobiles, and the elderly couple that mentored us through the early years of our marriage. We made multiple copies of the booklet, and distributed them as party favors to our family and guests.
Another form of memoir that I employ is to keep a record of our Family Holiday Celebrations, who attended, who hosted, what foods were served and the volume of foods needed. I keep those memoirs in a separate binder. That binder is the one most referred to by other family members. They refer to it for planning invitation lists, shopping lists, and menus.
A by-product of our Family Celebration memoirs is a family cookbook. I gathered recipes from my wife, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, and my sisters. These are kept in a separate report binder. That cookbook includes recipes from three generations.
A form of memoir writing that I do not employ is keeping a diary or a journal. There is nothing wrong with the method. It just doesn’t appeal to me.
I try to write for an hour or two every morning. I supplement my writing time with “when I’m in the mood” and “when I have the opportunity.”
There are paying markets for short memoirs and personal essays (see link below). And, of course, you can publish your memoirs, and sell them as high-quality paperbacks, hardcovers, and/or ebooks as well.
William Pepe is retired as a teacher and as an income tax preparer. Arcadia Publishing Company has published three Post Card History Series books that he has written in collaboration with his wife. A forty-year interest in genealogy and family history has led him to memoir writing.