Tell it Like it Was

5 healthy reasons to write your memoirs

I’m writing my memoirs — and you should, too.

“Who me,” you protest? The reasons NOT to write your story leap to mind: Who would care? Who has time? I can’t remember what happened yesterday, much less five decades ago! I’m not a “real” writer. And then the classic, “I’m not done living yet.”

Well, as someone who barely remembers where I left my car keys, I’m here to tell you that all these excuses are nonsense.

I’ll start with “who cares?” You don’t have to be a movie star or a well-known personality to write your memoirs. Memoirs are popular reading today because in our ever-changing world, they offer readers a glimpse into the past, be it distant or recent. As the baby-boomer generation arrives, memoir writing is becoming even more popular. But regardless of age or experience, writing a memoir can provide unanticipated rewards. I started writing my own memoirs through a side door that suddenl3938_thumby opened when I least expected it.

As a social worker working with seniors, I often ask them how they want to be remembered. I get amazing answers about family, spirituality, service to country, living by the rules (or not), and even about sex. But the message I hear loud and clear is that most people wish they had taken the time to write down more of their thoughts and experiences. They grew up in a different world than the one they live in now, a world they hope will not be forgotten. They learned much during their life’s journey, about business, relationships, raising a family, happiness, and the meaning of life. But the right time to write it all down eluded them.

And so I started writing it all down. From the moment I began, unanticipated rewards made themselves known. You will find your own unforeseen rewards, but here are my five reasons I am writing my memoirs.

Writing my memoirs reconnects you with family. Fact-checking  leads to wonderful conversations you never would have had.

1. Producing a written record, no matter how imperfect, puts us in the company of scribes and storytellers before them, and I become a part of a very long, time-honored human tradition. And if anyone does happen to be interested in reading what I am writing in the distant future, like my children and grandchildren, it will be there when they are ready.

2. Writing my memoirs reconnects me with family and friends on a new and deeper level. I check my facts with my older brother and find he has different perceptions. This leads to wonderful conversations we never would have had. I track down a friend with whom I share 12 years of Catholic school. Hearing what she still struggles with, good and bad, from those early years brings mutual understanding and connection that heals both of us.

3. Exploring the historical context and values of the past increases my understanding of the times I lived through and the person I became. For example, surfing the web for newscasts about the early 1960s, I came upon President John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech and was again inspired to make America a better place, just as I was more than 50 years ago.

4. Writing things down and fitting together the different pieces of my life give me the perspective and patience to reconsider the many things it is time to let go of. Do I really still need to resent my cousin who stole my boyfriend in high school when I met the man of my dreams in college? I have forgiven my mother for favoring her sons and appreciating her daughters more for their looks. My burden gets lighter every day.

5. Learning new things is good for the brain. I learned about a new genre, learned more about the era prior to my own, become more interested in today’s generation to understand the future. Learning to write creatively develops the right side of our brain. And when we engage both sides of the brain in combination with our heart, which is what writing a memoir is all about, it is good for the soul.

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Each of us finds our own path toward our story. Sometimes we dive right in, sometimes we dip a toe in, and sometimes we fall into it backwards. You have taken a small step in the right direction just by thinking about the idea. Other small steps are reading more about it, exploring resources online, attending a class, or buying a notebook and jotting down your thoughts. Just remember to keep a lookout for the unexpected.

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