“To be a person is to have a story to tell.” – Isak Dinesen
Most of us have at some point experienced the loss of a loved one and wished that in the time we had we’d asked more questions, been more inquisitive about their youth, their passions, the lessons they learned and the things they saw. Why then, do we hesitate to see the value in our own stories? It’s easy to imagine that in this big world our experiences are insignificant, but in reality human beings thrive on stories. It is those intimate, personal tales that inspire and mould us, especially if they help us build a sense of our origins and heritage. For these reasons, writing your memoirs is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your loved ones. The writing process offers a fantastic chance to celebrate your experiences and practice gratitude for the life you have led!
“Story is far older than the art of science and psychology and will always be the elder in the equation no matter how much time passes.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
People have been telling stories since before the written word. All over the world, tales have been recounted as a means to keep history alive and to pass on lessons and values. What values would you bestow to the generations that follow you? How did you learn those values? Some of your stories might involve lessons hard learned. You can’t impart your wisdom to your younger self, but you can share it with those you care about! You may also find that recording your life journey, or particular key moments of it, can be hugely therapeutic.
“Because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results.” – Nancy Mellon
The challenge of recording your memories might seem a little daunting, but with a structured approach, you’ll be going in no time. Don’t be afraid to try, whether you want to keep what you write just for yourself at this point, or dream of being a published writer, know that getting the words down is all that is required. Once you’re in the flow of it, you’ll be amazed how much you discover in your own mind.
Start with a Flash Memoir
This rather glamorous sounding term refers simply to recording a snapshot in time. Think back and choose a particularly strong memory from your life. Perhaps it was a significant turning point in your personal journey, your wedding day, a traumatic experience or time spent with a beloved mentor. Narrow in on that period and make some bullet notes on what happened, followed by what feelings you want to convey and the concluding message of the piece would be. Using your notes as a structure, write what you can remember in story format. Don’t be afraid – nobody is looking over your shoulder! You don’t have to share what you write unless you want to, but the act of writing this first piece will help you find your voice.
Write a Letter to a Loved One
Pretend you are writing a letter to a loved one to describe the events that took place. Think about details like how you felt, the environment and energy of the time. If you can remember specifics like colours, music and even hairstyles, get it all down! Start reconstructing the moment in your own mind and see what else comes back to you. You might find it useful to imagine your own voice in your mind as you write. How does your narrative flow?
Our Own Worst Critics
Try not to judge yourself as you write, but rather approach your experiences with curiosity. While we might embellish or sensor our stories when presenting ourselves day-to-day, in storytelling truth and vulnerability are the qualities that truly inspire. We do not have to present a perfect version of ourselves. It is in our miss-steps that we have learned the most! You might find that you see aspects of yourself from an entirely different perspective when re-approaching memories with wiser, more experienced eyes.
What Are The Things You Want to Share?
When considering which parts of your life are most worth recounting, ask yourself these questions and make a list of ideas to come back to for inspiration:
- What are the best experiences of your life?
- What were the worst moments of your life?
- At what points did your life change direction?
- Who were your greatest mentors and how did they impact you?
- What has family meant to you?
- Where have you travelled?
- When has life brought you something unexpected?
- What, and who, are your greatest loves?
- What were your greatest life lessons?
“When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.” – Brene Brown
Expanding into a Whole
You might find writing flash memoirs very satisfying but if you want to expand what you’ve already written into a more complete picture there are a couple of approaches you could take. You may wish to build a collection of snapshots, or flash memoirs, that fit together in chronological order, or you may wish to weave what you’ve written into a complete memoir of your life. If so, start at the beginning and remember you don’t have to maintain equal detail throughout. You can brush over parts and delve fully into others. Work around the flash memoirs you created and edit them a little to maintain the flow. Consider what themes have laced throughout your life and see if you can pull your story together via these themes and towards conclusions of the life lessons you would want to share with your reader.
Observe What You’ve Learned on Your Memoir Journey
Writing about your life experiences will bring so many emotions and realisations to clarity, you may be surprised. In what way has the process of writing changed you, and in what ways will that impact the time you have still? Perhaps you will feel inspired to connect more with your loved ones or seek out experiences that might otherwise have passed you by. You might feel inspired to write more, or motivated to pursue other creative activities. Our minds are truly extraordinary and well worth making the most of!