Let’s start with a basic question: is writing a memoir important?
Okay, why do we tell so many stories? Stories fascinate us all our lives. As children, we loved to be told fairy tales and to hear, time after time, the tales our parents told us about what we did and said when we were babies, as well as the stories about their own childhoods. As soon as we were old enough, we told stories about ourselves for our parents and for our friends.
As adults, we speak in stories at work, at family get-togethers, at class reunions, at town meetings, at the post office when we meet our neighbors. In fact, stories are such an important medium for us that even the numerous stories we tell and hear daily are not enough to satisfy our enormous appetites–we consume additional stories by reading novels, seeing movies, and watching dramas on television.
What is the meaning behind telling (and listening to) all of these stories? (The question “Is writing a memoir important?” leads to the answer. )
1) Obviously, stories entertain us.
Our need to be entertained however doesn’t fully account for our great hunger for stories.
2) A more satisfying explanation of the power stories hold for us is that they provide rehearsals for life.
Stories furnish us with the reassurance and the guidance we need to become adults who live full, happy lives. We read novels or watch movies for the same reason we tell stories: we want both reassurance that we can succeed in this journey called life and the guidance to do so. We want to see and hear how others have been successful in the struggles of their lives. We want to know the meaning of the decisions they took: did finishing school afford them a better job? Was putting off marriage a sensible thing to do? What were the consequences of following or deviating from the patterns their families had set for them?
3) We want stories to reassure us that the inner strength we can muster will be sufficient against self-doubt, loss, grief, and disappointment.
(People may exaggerate in their stories not to aggrandize themselves or to boast, but to rehearse the strength and meaning that may be missing in their lives and, by doing so, to acquire the strength and meaning they need.) It’s not out of idle curiosity that your children and grandchildren want to know about you and your life. What is more natural than for them to turn to the stories of their own parents and family for reassurance and guidance? Your stories have this power and, if they are preserved, they can offer meaning and direction for your children and grandchildren– just as they can for you.
Is writing a memoir important? Yes!
When you tell your personal and family stories, you are filling a need that exists not only in your family but in the larger human community to receive reassurance and guidance. Every year, as more and more once-tightly-knit groups in our society unravel and our access to our rightful inheritance of family stories is threatened, telling and writing your stories becomes increasingly important.
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We have helped many people whose lives demanded to be recorded but who themselves were not writers to create interesting and well-written memoirs.
We listen to you speak your story. We ask you a multitude of questions. Then we get to work writing. We come back to you with text and you make lots of corrective comments and we ask you a whole lot of new questions. Then, we go back to writing again.
Over time, your story develops into a memoir—one that you have shaped at every stage of the writing process.
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