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.