"By writing a memoir, you're passing on a priceless, one-of-a-kind gift to family and friends," says Kate Silver, journalist, ghostwriter and founder of TheMemoirists.com, which helps people tell their stories. "You're sharing your story, filled with depth and dimension, in a way that may one day help your grandchildren and your grandchildren's grandchildren appreciate and understand where they came from. You're also embarking on a fulfilling project that will lead you to reflect on your life and share what you've learned."
There is a renewed interest today in researching the origins and stories of relatives, as a way to get a better understanding of where families come from. Silver says, "When you think about the popularity of genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com and genetic testing services such as 23andme, it's clear that we have a fascination with our past, and a thirst to connect with previous generations. With memoirs, you can share your family's own cast of characters with future generations, saving them from searching."
If it seems an impossibly large task to write a book, know that your memoirs are yours to create -- as long or as short as you'd like. Writing your memoirs in a notebook might be your chosen format, or you could compile them in a bound book.
"A memoir doesn't have to be a lengthy book that encapsulates an entire existence. Before sitting down to write, think about the ideas you most want to share. Is it a love story? An immigration tale? Business success story? Reflections on raising your children? A family cookbook to pass down? Life lessons you wish to pass on? Military memories? Wedding recollections? The key is to find something you're passionate about and dive in -- don't overthink it," says Silver. "You don't have to be Shakespeare, you just have to be determined."
*How Your Loved Ones Can Benefit
Your memoirs will provide your loved ones a glimpse into precious memories from your life that they never knew or never thought to ask about. Seeing your story in print can take away any regret they might know for not asking more about your love story, education, achievements or passions.
They will find so much more of what makes you you, especially in tales of overcoming hardships or bad decisions. You may provide just the lessons they need right now, or in the future.
Your memoirs can be a cookbook with stories woven in between recipes, or you might include copies of letters, invitations to family weddings and other treasured photos that illustrate the milestones of your life.
Your kids and grandkids can be involved as well, perhaps doing the physical writing or typing, if those activities are difficult for you. This is a tremendous bonding experience, one in which they'll share their stories as yours are put on page.
Another way for your loved ones to get involved and to capture your stories is to videotape you answering their questions. The video might remain the official version of your memoirs, or that footage could be joined with the transcribed version of your story. Again, you're the creator. You can form them in whatever method feels best to you.
*How You Can Benefit
"By sitting down and writing about your path, you start to process your experiences. It's a chance to pat yourself on the back for things you did that were successful, and it's a chance to forgive yourself for choices that may have taken you in an unexpected direction," says Silver.
Any creative activity is good for your health and well-being, energizing your mind and exercising your memory. If you're concerned that revisiting sad times will create distress, ask your helpers to be mindful of swinging you into a happier subject if you seem to get down. Revisiting bright moments and happy days, like re-reading old love letters or watching home videos, could provide a mood boost.
*How to Get Started
First, think about whether you'd like some help. You might wish to ask your partner, family member or a friend to help guide your writing process, or you might wish for a professional writer.
"When you connect with a writer, he or she does all the manual work (the interviews, transcriptions, storytelling, editing, packaging and publishing) so all you have to do is open up and share," says Silver. "A professional writer has a knack for coaxing out the most colorful stories."
*What Should You Write?
"It can be helpful to reflect on your own parents and grandparents. What do you wish you knew about them?" says Silver. "I've learned that the small details are sometimes the most interesting. What did weekday dinners look like? What about special occasion meals? What did they do for fun as teenagers and young adults? ... Write down a series of questions you wish you could ask your own parents and grandparents, and then answer those questions about yourself." Then future generations will have the answers you wanted to know.
Don't worry about perfection. Life isn't perfect, so your story doesn't need to be. All that matters is that it's your story. And above all, have fun.