You have lived a life and share anecdotes and memories with your kids and grandchildren, but no matter how mundane you may feel your life has been, it's your story, and it deserves preserving so that you can pass it along to future generations. Writing memoirs can seem daunting because we tend to think of it as writing an autobiography, which captures your entire story, beginning to end. But memoirs are more about focusing on a theme or particular periods of your life, a collection of life stories, each a different chapter.
Denis Ledoux, author of "Turning Memories Into Memoirs: A Handbook for Writing Lifestories" and founder of The Memoir Network, which offers workshops and mentoring on how to write the story of you, says the hardest part is deciding on a theme.
"Some people know what they want to write about -- their college days, military experience or love for horses or a hobby that's been thematic in their lives -- whereas others don't know where to start." He says that if that's the case, begin with quantity and write down all the memories you can think of. "Keep writing and typing. Don't crumple up pages and keep deleting. Keep writing. Then, when you're done, you revise, revise and revise, and you'll find your true theme to commit to paper."
With that in mind, consider the following tips when starting your memoirs:
*Write, Write and Keep on Writing
Ledoux has people start by doing a memory list. "Write about everything you remember -- your grandmother's thick black heels, your mom's fragrance, your grandfather's pipe, vacations, memorable moments you spent in the military. When you do the memory list, you'll never get writer's block, because you've got no excuse. Just refer to your list. It's very liberating,"
*Find a Focus
After you write a memory list, you may decide on one important time in your life that will make up your memoirs or start to see a theme that can be the book's core, whether you ultimately focus on one chapter of your life -- for example, your time in Vietnam or the Peace Corps -- or you share different moments in your life as stand-alone chapters.
It's tempting to embellish and portray your life how you want to see it rather than how it was. But memoirs are more engaging and revealing when you write with raw honesty, capturing exactly how it was and how you felt.
*Show Through Your Own Eyes
Instead of just stating facts -- for example, saying that you had an unemotional and distant father -- describe them. An expression writers use is, "Show; don't tell." You could say, "Father kept to himself, always sitting in his favorite chair smoking a pipe and ignoring the family goings-on around him, rarely engaging in conversation and often not at home, the quiet closing of the door late at night the only indication he was in the house." Setting a scene versus stating a fact helps the reader experience your story through your own eyes and is also nonjudgmental, as opposed to saying, "My father was never home, and when he was home, he wasn't present to our family."
Setting scenes by describing the ambiance, the smell of the place and the sounds is more powerful than just saying you were there. Instead of saying "We were standing in a rainy field at the horse barn," say: "It was a windy day. The tall green grass was swaying to the rhythm of the breeze, the smell of horse manure from the barn lingering on the wind as our boots sank into the mud." Taking readers there with you puts them more in your shoes.
*Go Beyond You
If you're writing about a memorable family vacation, don't just write about where you went and what you did. Include information about the town, its people, interesting anecdotes of historic moments that took place there. It helps to set the scene by giving more context about your surroundings and makes your memoirs more informative and meatier.
*Go Beyond Words
Engaging memoirs include personal visuals: old photos, recipes, certificates, an image of a memorable handwritten letter or birthday card, a sports program, a clipping from a newspaper -- whatever can visually embellish your memories.
*Embrace Your Emotions
Memoirs are intended, by their very nature, to let readers get to know about the true you. Beyond facts of things that happened, be sure to share what it meant to you and how you felt. We all react to different situations in different ways, and if you only state the facts, then -- as they would reading nonfiction -- your readers will create their own emotions on a situation instead of feeling yours.
*Can I Get Published?
Though your memoirs may not be a best-seller to a broad audience, your story will be popular among family and friends -- and a wonderful gift to pass down to future generations. Ledoux points out that there are many services online today -- such as Lulu, Solentro and Blurb -- where you can have your memoirs hard-bound in book form to give to those you love and people who might be riveted knowing more about you and the life you've lived.