Ready to write your memoirs? With several weeks of winter ahead – and a pandemic still howling outside the door – now is the perfect time to pick up a pen and get started.
While your life stories probably won’t top the NYT’s bestseller list, the practice of writing about your experiences can improve your mental health and improve your outlook on life.
Several studies, including one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, found that writing about stressful events provided therapeutic benefits for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Recording our experiences in a notebook or on a laptop not only provides catharsis, but also helps us make sense of them, says Alison Armstrong Taylor, who co-wrote How to Save Your Life: One Chapter at a Time with her husband, Tom Taylor (picturesandstories.com).
“Simply organizing your past into a system, chronological or otherwise, can help you see your life in a different way,” says Armstrong Taylor. “According to neuroscientists, it can even alter the organic structure of your brain.”
But our life stories are more than “difficulties and challenges,” she adds. Writing memoirs also helps us rebuild a sense of gratitude for our strengths, accomplishments, and blessings. At the same time, looking back “helps you realize what you haven’t done yet and what priorities you have for moving forward,” says Armstrong Taylor.
Later, you can decide to publish your memoirs for others or keep them for yourself. Either way, you will reap the therapeutic benefits of reviewing and writing about your experiences.
Mining for buried treasure
Like tourists who return home with a store of memories, most new memoirists are overwhelmed or paralyzed by the idea of choosing which stories to share. The following tips will help you get started and overcome writer’s block along the way.
1. Silence your inner critic and write freely. Your first order of business is to get words on paper or on the computer. Worry about editing and packaging the final product after writing a first draft.
2. Sharpen your focus, one story at a time. Start with a series of short personal essays, each about a different experience. Put together, these could become chapters in your book.
3. Become a family archaeologist. Uncover old memories while exploring heirlooms and family heirlooms. Choose an item, then write how you acquired it and what it means to you (or a loved one).
4. Cook. Use a family recipe as a prompt and write down the memories it brings. Your Irish grandmother’s shortbread recipe, for example, might bring back memories of her rituals and festivals in the old country.
5. Improve your interview techniques. Ask your friends and family members to share memories of you or fill in details you forgot. Save them to your iPhone.
6. Use sensory details and proper nouns to enhance your writing. Turn to family photo albums and scrapbooks if you need visual reminders of old homes, cars, furniture, and clothing styles.
7. Avoid aimless ramblings, no matter how poetic. Aim to make a point. Your memoirs will be more interesting if they provide a life lesson or hard-earned family wisdom.
8. Read published memoirs; watch how professional writers craft their work. Ask your librarian for recommendations.
9. Polish your gemstones. Proofread your final version for errors in fact, spelling, or grammar.
Once you’ve written a few memories on the page, be proud of your accomplishment. And keep writing. As memoirist Mary Karr notes in The Art of Memoir (HarperCollins), it takes courage to share our true experiences: “None of us can ever know the value of our lives, or how our separate, silent doodling can add to the pleasure of life. world, if only by the way it radically changes us, one by one.
Cindy La Ferle is a freelance writer for Royal Oak and author of a memoir, Writing Home. Visit her daily blog at http://cindylaferlehappythings.blogspot.com