Telling Your Story through Memoir

When many of my clients approach retirement, they find themselves reflecting on their lives or on certain parts of their lives. This reflection usually leads at some point to thoughts of memoir—specifically, thoughts of whether they can or should attempt writing one.

I say, go for it! Even if your only reader is yourself, composing the memoir will almost certainly give you a new perspective on your life that lets you more fully enjoy your retirement. Here are some tips for getting started and following through on a memoir project.

  • Start anywhere. The most intimidating part of any writing project is getting started, mostly because there are infinite potential starting points. When you decide to write a memoir, don’t feel as if you have to begin at the beginning—or even at the place that eventually becomes the beginning. Most writers scrap their first drafts, using the first few paragraphs to find the rhythm of their writing. To get your juices flowing, get together with someone you trust and talk through stories you’d like to tell through memoir. Ideas from this conversation can shape the form your writing takes.
  • Set aside time to write every day (or most days). Once you’ve gotten started, you’ll only finish if you actually sit down and write. By establishing a routine of writing for a certain amount of time (or for a certain number of words) every day, you’ll be much more likely to finish your project.
  • Focus on something specific. Memoir is not the same as autobiography—you don’t have to recount your entire life. Start by focusing on an event or a series of events that was meaningful to you, and work from there. Even if you only tell one story, you’ll learn plenty about yourself in the process.
  • Know your objectives. Writing for yourself (i.e. for self-discovery) differs from writing for your family or writing with the intent of publishing. If you intend to send your memoir to a publisher, you should consider working with a professional editor, or even a ghostwriter, if you’ve never worked on a big project before. If you’re writing largely for yourself or your family, you probably don’t need to pay as much attention to fine-tuning your work.
  • Reread and revise. No writers get it right on the first draft. Reviewing your work and revising it will allow you to make it flow better, and help your readers (whoever they might be) enjoy your story as much as possible.

Writing a memoir is a way to revisit the highlights or chief struggles of your life so that you can make sense of them and learn from them how to approach your future. Sharing your memoir with friends and family members can help you offer some of the wisdom you’ve gained over the years.

Happy writing!

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