Written by: Elizabeth Mashak
As children we think we are invincible. We believe life is an adventure that will go on forever.
But as the years continue, a harsh reality begins to set in for many of us – life will not go on forever. Yet we are told to “live each day” and to “make the best” of the time we have.
And for the most part, we do.
But when it’s all over, the life we once lived will end with it. The memories that make up our life story fade to dust, and our face becomes just another image on a photograph that our future descendants will never recognize.
That is why a growing number of people are looking for ways to not only preserve their memories, but to tell their story. However, if you have no experience in writing a memoir or autobiography, the challenge of preservation becomes a task that not many people are willing to take on.
Having no experience as an author, and perhaps never writing a story of any kind since high school, many of us have a hard time figuring out how to transfer our memories from our mind to “virtual paper.” So if you are looking for guidance on how to start your memoir without losing your mind, here are 5 quick tips that can help!
1. Ask yourself: “why am I writing a memoir?”
Are you adding memories to your digital Footprint just for fun? Are you trying to share an experience that became a life lesson, or secrets you never revealed before? Are you writing your memoir because you want your story to be known 100 years from now?
The answer to this question will determine your next steps. For example, one of the topics I have chosen to write about in my Footprint are my experiences in previous relationships. Women I dated, and even those I was in love with at one point. Now I am a happily married man and certainly don’t want to cause any friction in my marriage.
So why am I writing about these moments then? Because they helped me realize what I had to offer. They gave me the experience I needed to become a good husband and loving father. They taught me how relationships should and shouldn’t work, and how to work out our problems before it’s too late.
My past relationships were a milestone in my life that helped define who I am today. And I decided I want to pass down those teachings to my children and grand children, even if I am not here to share them.
Start by answering the question “why,” and you’ll have a much clearer direction on the stories your Footprint should contain.
2. Focus on just ONE single moment from your past, not all of them.
Think of your Footprint like a puzzle that comes together piece by piece. Now a memoir contains a plethora of moments that fall under one common theme we like title “our life story“.
But because there are literally millions of thoughts, ideas, and memories racing through our minds at any given time, it can be quite difficult to figure out what you want to say and how to begin.
The trick here is to make your way through maze we call our minds, and find just one story from your journey that was a pivotal moment, and one you wish to preserve.
Common examples might be: “the day we said ‘I do'” or “my first night as a new parent” or “the interview that helped me land my first job interview.” Notice how each of these topics, while still relatively broad, centers around one specific moment.
These are the bits and pieces that make up your life puzzle, scattered across the endless mind. So take just one piece and determine where it needs to be placed, allowing you to start looking for the next one.
3. Avoid the details. They will become overwhelming!
For example, let’s consider the topic of “the day I got married.” Because it was a special day in my life, I want to memorialize it by writing about how I felt and what marriage really meant to me.
But if I really wanted to be specific, I could break it down into the details of that entire day, including topics like: “our first dance”, “the reception hall woes”, “our wedding vows” and even when the limo broke down.
These are examples of the details you want to avoid (in the beginning at least). There are just too many of them. And quite frankly, most of us don’t have the time to write about all that. It’s a topic that I only want to spend maybe 30 minutes writing about, and yet those details can bog us down for weeks.
While there may be stories where details are warranted, generally speaking for the purposes of a simple memoir, most times they aren’t necessary. Besides, if we are writing these stories with the intent of preserving a milestone for our future descendants, just the fact that we took the time to write something should be more than enough to satisfy their basic curiosity.
4. Spelling and punctuation should be at the back of the line.
A well written story will be read countless times over by dozens of people before it is released to the general public. And any professional writer will tell you that proofreading for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes is a top priority.
That same mantra holds true for a memoir, but only to a certain extent.
Unless you have intentions of officially publishing your autobiography as a book or copyrighted material, don’t worry about making it grammatically perfect. Because chances are the only ones who will read your story are close family members, distant relatives, or friends. And these folks will likely already understand that you were not a professional storyteller, and that you wrote your memoir with the intent on communicating certain milestones in your journey.
So while they may pick up an error or two along the way, it’s probably safe to say they will skip right past it with maybe a chuckle or two, knowing you were only human and that you, too, were capable of making mistakes.
5. Start writing, and don’t stop.
I enrolled in a writing course for college where the professor gave us an ongoing assignment. We were asked to keep a daily journal throughout the semester, writing about anything we wanted to.
And I vividly remember one explicit instruction: when you start writing, don’t stop until the entire page is filled.
He said “even if your mind goes blank, keep re-writing the last word until you develop a new thought to write about.”
His reasoning wasn’t to have us fill a page to get a passing grade. Instead, he understood what “writer’s block” was. And he knew if we stopped writing, even for a minute, that our mind could wander elsewhere and thus lose focus on the story we were trying to piece together.
When crafting a story in your memoir, think of it like a freeway with many possible exit ramps. Your mind may wish to turn off and explore one of those exits. But let your hands act as your cruise control, keeping you in the middle lane of this proverbial highway.
Let your hands continue typing and continue writing, even if the words don’t make perfect sense. Just get your thoughts on paper. You can always tweak your story later on if necessary.
Especially for those with no writing experience, the idea of crafting a memoir about their life can be quite an undertaking. Most believe that their present actions will be enough to continue their legacy. And instead of taking on the challenge of writing about it, they hope the loved ones they leave behind will continue to share their story.
However, as history has proven in everyone’s family, the lives that were once part of it will become nothing more than a face in a photo that no one will recognize.
What other tips and ideas would you suggest when crafting a memoir of your life story?