Memoir writing: starting the process

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Part 1 in the series ‘ who wants to read about you’.  By Linda J Pifer, author of Windows and Violet Hopes.

Depending upon how many years you’ve lived and how much you need to remember, your memoir book should number at least 100 to 200 pages. But be forewarned, unless you are a famous actor/actress of a certain era, or have been the subject of several newscasts, believe it or not your life may not be significant enough in many eyes to warrant even the slightest glance, i.e. who in the world is that?

The exceptions to the above are many. Your life and its lessons may well be useful to those who are battling the same fights you’ve already won or lost; for instance, on the subjects of sobriety, physical illness, chronic and acute. People are scared of the unknown and search for direction by exploring others’ lives. If you’ve already moved through an illness or lived as a caregiver to such an affliction, your perspective and learned experience is invaluable to others.

Other areas of interest include child-rearing, leaving home for the first time, educational struggles, finding a life-career, struggling from one background to a successful other; spiritual awakening, genealogy of your family lines, and so-on.

The point is, just because you haven’t been in the papers or on the internet, does not mean your life isn’t special in its own way. No one gets through without fighting a few battles, some so painful you may not want to talk about them. Despite the cathartic nature of putting your story down on paper, it’s humbling to air it all to the people outside your circle and even harder to write what you’ve successfully buried over the years in the name of “moving on”. Yes there may be parts of your story you will take to your grave and that’s okay; there is no law that states you must be totally naked to this fickle world.

With all that said, where does one begin? For me it was with all those snapshots passed down from my grandmother, great aunts, aunts, mother, dad and cousins. They really liked photography, whether in its beginnings when getting a professional portrait was an adventure (all that black powder blowing up!); or when everyone in the family had a camera at every occasion. You know what I’m referring to; those pictures that have been in the big box in the attic or on the top shelf of the closet for years. I’m talking a few pictures in albums but 100’s of pictures loose with no names or dates. Ah, and dad’s slides which are deteriorating as we speak. For me the latter numbered 5,000+!

Suffice to say you begin. One day, a few at a time, scan them into files with last names you know were a part of your family. You set yourself a goal per week and don’t throw away any unless they are duplicates and even then you put all hard copies in a photo file box with at least a ballpark date they were taken and location. You never know when you might need a hard copy picture in your research.

But this is a writing group, not a photography group so let me say this. As you’re doing the above task, keep a tape recorder, writing pad, or tablet handy and record what the pictures remind you of. Yes, your mind stored everything you know about that strange dude with the hand sewn brown suit and bowler hat and I’m not talking about the fab 70’s. Your grandmother might have told you his name when you and she were looking through the album together or you overheard a conversation as a child, or you used to know him or her in the 1970’s and remember a story to go with. Point is, those pictures may be the beginning to the memoir of all time and you won’t know unless you start!

Next month I will lay out a proposed outline of questions to help you begin your life’s tale. Meanwhile, get a start on those pictures, letters or cards! Hope to hear from you with suggestions or questions you’d like to see addressed.

 

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Books by Linda J Pifer

 

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