Limiting the Focus of Your Memoir

Although I think it’s fine to use the words “memoir” and “autobiography” interchangeably, traditionally a memoir traces only a segment of your life, not your entire life the way an autobiography does. As I wrap up my time at the 2019 National Senior Games, which I hope you’ve been following on Instagram @writemymemoirs (also will soon post some on the Write My Memoirs page on Facebook), I’m thinking about all of the great stories these older athletes have to tell. When you have a defining hobby like sports competition, you can craft a memoir just around that.

The facts are handy—in the case of the Senior Games, the National Senior Games Association (NSGA) keeps all of the results online. U.S. Track and Field (USTAF), another sports competition organization, does the same. At this year’s Senior Games, there also are videos posted on YouTube by ProView Networks. The athletes tend to bring family members who take lots of pictures. Put it all together, and much of the research for a memoir like this is already at the author’s fingertips. To fill in the words, you go back into your memories of each medal you won, every city in which you competed, all of the friends you made and the inspiration you felt. I think the writing comes easier and is more enjoyable than with other types of memoirs that may require recalling painful incidents and challenges to overcome.

So think about some lifelong or recently discovered activity that has made a difference in your life. It might be something that you take for granted. Maybe everyone tells you what a great cook you are. You can build a memoir around food, family meals and the joy that brings you. Perhaps you have a specific hobby like photography, birdwatching or attending estate or “garage” sales. You may be in a bowling league that has met weekly for several decades, or you’ve participated in various book clubs over the years. This type of limited-topic memoir can be very interesting both to your family and to people engaged in a similar activity. It also can inspire other people to get involved with something they can love as much as you love yours. As always, we would love to help you bring your memoir to life! Email me at rosanne@writemymemoirs.com.

Join our “Memoirs Live” Online Memoir Writing Group – for FREE!

We’re excited to announce our new Write My Memoirs Support Group! It’s a virtual audio/video meet-up that you can join from your computer or your phone. Let’s do some Q&A.

When does this start?
We’re aiming for the end of June 2019.

How often will the group meet?
We’ll hold two 1-hour meetings a week. One will be scheduled on a weekday in the daytime, and the second one will be on a weeknight in the evening or possibly on the weekend (all U.S. time zones, but all countries are welcome to participate).

How many participants will there be?
We’ll keep it small, capping it at 15 participants for any session. But these are opt-in meetings; some people may want to join only once a week or even once a month. So each meeting may have just a handful of people. We’ll have to see how that goes.

What will we do at the meetings?
We’re there to offer each other support in writing our memoirs. Some of the discussion will focus on motivation. I will facilitate these meetings. I’m a professional writer and writing coach and an expert in grammar, so I can answer questions or give a quickie lesson if appropriate. Participants who want critiques can read passages or perhaps submit a passage beforehand that I can share by email with the group to save the reading time at the session.

Do I have to download an app to participate?
No! We’re going to use a brand new platform, Spoka Meet, that emails you a link. Just click on the link and you’re in the meeting.

What’s the technology like?
We’re really excited that through Spoka Meet we’re able to bring you a high-quality experience. It will feel as if we’re all in a room together, with our faces lined up at the bottom and sharing a whiteboard as the main focus. You can choose to turn the video on or off. You can just type out chat if you prefer not to speak. So you could even do this on a public computer in a library, listen in on your phone in the car—lots of options.

You said it’s free?
This first offer is FREE! Get in all summer for lifetime free membership. If this helps people, in the fall we’ll begin offering it as a fee-based service, but the cost will always be very low.

How do I join?
Let me know you’re interested by emailing me at: rosanne@writemymemoirs.com and I will stay in touch until we have the exact dates nailed down. Then you’ll receive the email link to enter the conversation.

Hope to see you at Memoirs Live!

What You Can Learn From Olivia de Havilland

We all want to own our legacies, but we’re not fully in control of that. The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would not consider 102-year-old “Gone With the Wind” actress Olivia de Havilland’s claim that a TV show needed her permission to present her likeness and character. The FX miniseries “Feud: Bette and Joan,” was based on the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. In it, Catherine Zeta-Jones portrayed de Havilland as somewhat of a gossip, which the elder actress found offensive. The Supreme Court let stand a California appeals court’s decision that de Havilland had no say in how she was depicted in art. The decision read in part: “Whether a person portrayed in one of these expressive works is a world-renowned film star—‘a living legend’—or a person no one knows, she or he does not own history. Nor does she or he have the legal right to control, dictate, approve, disapprove, or veto the creator’s portrayal of actual people.”

You’re probably not famous, and you most likely will not find yourself portrayed as a character in a movie or TV show. But you still could be mentioned in someone’s memoir. Right now, someone who knows you could be writing up an account of your actions. Maybe in that person’s eyes you were the unfair boss, nerdy cousin or mean girl in high school, while you recall a completely different dynamic to the relationship between the two of you. Go to any of the memoir discussions on social media, and a common question is: Should I change the names of the people I include in my memoir? The thing is that changing the name doesn’t necessarily hide the identity. People who know the author are likely to recognize the person whether the name is real or not.

Sometimes these authors will approach the people and ask whether they mind being included in the memoir. If you’re approached, you can always plead with the author not to include you. That may work, or it may not. Sometimes all the author is doing is giving you a little advance notice, but the mention is a done deal. So what can you do? Write your own story. Own your truth. Provide the narrative of your life as you recall it. That way, you’ll at least have your version and, unlike Olivia de Havilland, won’t have to ask the Supreme Court to decide whether you’re a gossip or just a really open person.

Get Social With Write My Memoirs!

Write My Memoirs is popping up all over social media. Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @writemymemoirs! In addition to the Write My Memoirs page on Facebook, there’s the brand new Write My Memoirs Group. Let’s get together in this group to share our hopes and dreams, challenges and frustrations, laughter and tears—everything that’s part of the deal when you’re writing a memoir or, really, any book.

I’ll be among the people you can find hanging out in the Write My Memoirs Group. I’ve been a professional journalist for 40+ years, I taught grammar and writing for 20 years and I’m also an admin on Facebook’s Grammar Matters. You can find more of my interests by following Rosanne Ullman on Pinterest, where I’m just starting to build boards.

In the Write My Memoirs Group on Facebook, I’ll be happy to answer your grammar questions, coach you on your writing and motivate you to finish your memoir. Let’s do all of that for each other! I invite English language experts to help me inspire all authors, including those whose first language is not English. Is your New Year’s resolution to start—or finish—your memoir? The question of resolutions was brought up today in the Write My Memoirs Group, so please join and share! Get others’ feedback by posting brief excerpts or full chapters from your writing, and turn around to do the same for them. I can’t wait to see what you’re working on!

 

Why Young People Write Memoirs

The founder of Write My Memoirs was in his 60s when he figured out that people about his age needed a good website to anchor their memoir writing. In more recent years, we’ve noticed a trend—people much younger than their 60s also are joining and engaging with Write My Memoirs. It seemed odd at first. How much life is there to write about after only 20, 30 or even 40 years? The answer to that lies in the very heart of what a memoir is.

“Every event, and certainly every event worth writing about, will always remain tattooed on our neurons,” writes biographer Benjamin Moser in a New York Times article, “Should There Be a Minimum Age for Writing a Memoir?” Moser says it’s never too early to start writing about those events for the simple purpose of keeping a record. He calls it an “homage we pay ourselves.”

In the same article, young novelist and essayist Leslie Jamison makes a similar case for capturing the memory while it’s still fresh. “The narratives we tell about our own lives are constantly in flux,” she notes. “Our perspectives at each age are differently valuable. What age gains in remove it loses in immediacy: The younger version of a story gets told at closer proximity, with more fine-grain texture and less aerial perspective.”

In the article “Why Should You Write Your Memoir?” in Psychology Today, researcher Diana Raab reports her findings from interviews she conducted for her book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. Younger people told her pretty much the same thing we hear from older memoir authors: they felt they had a story to share and wanted to tell it in their own voice, from their own perspective. “Additional reasons to write a memoir include preserving a family’s legacy, learning more about one’s ancestors, a search for personal identity, gaining insight into the past or healing from a traumatic experience,” Raab adds.

Our experience at Write My Memoirs is that our older authors look back on their entire lives and choose stories they consider worthy of inclusion in their memoir. The driving factor is the writing—a desire to write about their life. With younger people, the story itself is what drives the idea. Something distinctive, good or bad, happens to them and they want to make sure the story gets told. It’s a subtle difference, but we notice that age does influence how you present your memoir.

Seize the Memoir-Writing Day!

I noticed an ad in the obituary section of my local Chicago Tribune that said something along the lines of: “Every life story deserves to be told. Send in yours about your loved one.” This notice made me sad. While it might make you smile to think of your spouse, child or grandchild honoring you after your death by taking out an ad in a newspaper to publish a few paragraphs about your life, it’s nothing compared to a whole book that you write about your life in your own voice! In your autobiography, written well before your death, you take control of how your life is remembered.

It’s not unusual for a book we publish at Write My Memoirs to contain observations that come as a complete surprise to the author’s friends and family. Often, people don’t talk much about their childhood, wartime military service, traumatic events or some other aspect of their lives. The process of writing a memoir brings out those buried memories and the feelings the person experienced at the time. Also, details regarding names, dates and places are known only to the author. If that information isn’t written down, it often is lost once the person is no longer alive to report it.

Writing a biography of someone else is a rewarding task, too, but even that is much easier while the person is still alive to answer questions. If you’re thinking of writing about your own life or someone else’s, there’s no time like the present!

Listen to Yourself, Not the Experts’ Advice

Reviewing some of the advice on Google about how to write a memoir, I’m struck by how much of it is exactly opposite to the advice we offer to Write My Memoirs members. If you’re trying to sell your memoir and hoping for a six-figure movie deal based on your life, then a lot of the conventional wisdom holds. You should tell compelling anecdotes, grab the reader right from the beginning with a great first line and show how much personal growth you’ve experienced. But if you’re doing what we do here—writing for your friends and family—all of that advice goes out the window. And there’s a tremendous freedom in knowing that you can just write however you want to write.

When the intended readers already love you, the blank screen isn’t so intimidating. You don’t have to be afraid to start that first sentence. You don’t have to worry that your writing isn’t good enough or you’ll do something “wrong.” Your account of your life, however you choose to explain it, will be cherished by the readers, because they know you personally. You really can’t go wrong.

So disregard any online “help” telling you that a chronological life story isn’t intriguing enough. Forget about crafting “setups” for plot lines that build until they reach a resolution, especially a “shocking” resolution. Don’t fret over whether your work will be considered a “memoir” or an “autobiography.” Who cares? When you hand out your book at church, the VFW hall, your family reunion or your community book fair, those people will appreciate every word. You’re a legend in their minds, and now they’ll have all of the details of how you turned out that way.

Welcome to the Redesigned Write My Memoirs!

Everything looks new at Write My Memoirs, because everything is new! We have a new look and many new features. If you’re already a member, your work is still safe where you left it. Just follow the sign-in instructions, and you will find your account. If you’re just joining now, welcome! We hope your experience is rewarding as you set out to write and perhaps publish your memoir. We will help you along the way! From now on, we will be updating the Write My Memoirs blog regularly. Meanwhile, feel free to poke around at previous posts, where we’ve discussed many aspects of writing an autobiography.

Each life is unique; each life story is valuable and, typically, quite entertaining. You can gather up everything you’ve been posting on social media and cobble together a pretty compelling narrative. So tell us: when are you planning to write your autobiography? At Write My Memoirs, we can help you get started, avoid writer’s block in the middle of the process and publish your work when you’ve completed your book. We want to help—leave us a comment!

Writers: “The Custodians of Memory”

Writers: “The Custodians of Memory”
We’re spending the early summer here discussing an essay on memoir writing by On Writing Well author William Zinsser. Last time, I shared the end of his essay, where he gave advice on how to and start writing your life story. Today, let’s look at the very beginning of his essay:
“One of the saddest sentences I know is ‘I wish I had asked my mother about that.’ Or my father. Or my grandmother. Or my grandfather. As every parent knows, our children are not as fascinated by our fascinating lives as we are. Only when they have children of their own—and feel the first twinges of their own advancing age—do they suddenly want to know more about their family heritage and all its accretions of anecdote and lore. ‘What exactly were those stories my dad used to tell about coming to America?’ ‘Where exactly was that farm in the Midwest where my mother grew up?’ Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into.”
That’s a very powerful argument in support of writing a memoir. While you may not feel a burning desire to write an autobiography, it’s a service to your entire family to document your life’s various stories. Your memories stretch beyond your own experiences, back to the tales you heard your parents and grandparents tell. Your children and grandchildren may someday be very interested in all of that, even if right now they do not ask you about yourself.
http://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir/#.UaTLItKsjTo
https://writemymemoirs.com/blog/meet-william-zinsser/

We’re spending the early summer here discussing an essay on memoir writing by On Writing Well author William Zinsser. Last time, I shared the end of his essay, where he gave advice on how to start writing your life story. Today, let’s look at the very beginning of his essay:

“One of the saddest sentences I know is ‘I wish I had asked my mother about that.’ Or my father. Or my grandmother. Or my grandfather. As every parent knows, our children are not as fascinated by our fascinating lives as we are. Only when they have children of their own—and feel the first twinges of their own advancing age—do they suddenly want to know more about their family heritage and all its accretions of anecdote and lore. ‘What exactly were those stories my dad used to tell about coming to America?’ ‘Where exactly was that farm in the Midwest where my mother grew up?’ Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into.”

That’s a very powerful argument in support of writing a memoir. While you may not feel a burning desire to write an autobiography, it’s a service and a kindness to your entire family to document your life’s various stories. Your memories stretch beyond your own experiences, back to the tales you heard your parents and grandparents tell. Your children and grandchildren may someday be very interested in all of that, even if right now they do not ask you about yourself.

Political Autobiographies Play a Role in Elections

I happen to be in Florida today, the day of the state’s primary. As you might expect, the local airwaves have been flooded with political ads. They contain a lot of “he said, he said” statements. It makes me wonder why these candidates never penned a memoir to document their own lives and more definitively present their views.

Think back to the last presidential election. In the democratic primary, Hillary Clinton had her husband’s reputation, her four-year record as First Lady and her term as a New York senator. Barack Obama, still only in his 40s, already had two autobiographical books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. The titles became common phrases, and suddenly these books were selling “like hotcakes.” The words were inspirational and trumped any Obama narrative the Clinton opposition and, later in the general election the John McCain campaign, could contrive.

Yet, among the 27 books Newt Gingrich has authored, not one is a memoir. Mitt Romney, with his diverse experience as a businessman, governor and Olympics chief, hasn’t sat down to write his life story. Here in Florida, Romney’s ads do mention an autobiography—Ronald Reagan’s—to use as evidence to counter some of Gingrich’s claims about being the heir to the Reagan legacy. So Mitt realizes the value of a written memoir, yet hasn’t crafted his own. And you know whom he’ll face if he makes it to the next election? The same President Barack Obama who won last time with the power of two very influential autobiographies.