by Diana Raab
A memoir is a collection of memories about moments or events in an author’s life. The word comes from the French word “memoire,” which means memory or reminiscence. Memories are remembered events, occasions, people and places that you recall. A memoir recounts a time period or set of experiences in the author’s life which illuminates a single theme focus or segment in the author’s life.
A memoir is written from the first person point of view. It is different than a biography that is written in third person about someone else, and is about an entire life. An autobiography is also about an entire life, however, the difference is that it is written in first person. Typically an autobiography is written by someone famous— a celebrity, politician, businessman, or scientist, for example.
When writing a memoir, the writer shares his or her past lived experiences from their current perspective. In this way the story is interwoven with reflections and analysis. The writer of the memoir is the narrator or protagonist, sometimes writing to make sense of an experience. It can be helpful to have certain distance from the subject of your memoir so that you can view it more clearly. Having distance also helps the writer express feelings more honestly write about feelings.
It has been said that for every life that is lived, there are at least eight others that we might have gotten close to but never really got to know.
Here are 5 reasons to write your memoir:
1) It helps you identify themes or important events in your life. The best way to start writing a memoir is to make a list of defining moments in your life, such as when you first learned how to ride a bicycle, when a sibling was born, when a parent or loved one died, the first day of school, when you went to college, when you got married, when your first child/grandchild was born, or a life-changing trip or adventure. Writing a memoir also helps you relive certain times in your life. It gives you a second chance to have an experience.
2) It encourages self-reflection and insight about your life. Remembering and thinking about events from your past offers the opportunity to understand the impact of those events on your life. Writing provides a meaning to memories and if necessary, a satisfying closure. Writing helps you understand how people in your life have shaped or affected you. Often, what a writer does not know about his or her life is what inspires him or her to keep writing a memoir. It’s the discovery process that pushes the book forward.
3) It helps you find your voice. First person narrative is the most natural because it uses your story-telling voice. When writing, try to pick one person whom you want to address. In this way your true and intimate voice will be revealed on the page, as if you are speaking directly to them or seated across the table from them. The best memoirs use a storytelling voice, sort of like, “Come gather around everyone, here’s my story.” Many people who’ve gone through some type of trauma realize that the only way they can find their true voice. The best memoirs use a very intimate voice.
4) It helps jog your memory. Pulling up stories from your past is a good way to exercise your memory. It is also a way to make your stories come alive. Sometimes memories get distorted over time. It does not mean that you are remembering incorrectly, it just means that your view from your current perspective may subconsciously alter what happened. When you write, you are writing your own emotional truth, no one elses. Sometimes people do intentionally alter or fictionalize their past, especially if there are parts that are blurry or painful.
5) Stories connect you to your ancestors. Writing about your own lived experiences will spark your interest in those who have lived before you. It is a good way to learn about your ancestors, to see your place in your family tree or legacy. It is also a way to get in touch with those who you have lost or been out of touch with.