Q. One reason to write a memoir, I know, is that a memoir can touch a life. I’m writing my memoirs to help my children and grandchildren to live better lives. My memoir can make the difference between success or failure in their lives. Isn’t that a good reason to write a memoir?
A. Your intent is laudatory, but I think it might be misplaced. Since most memoirs will not earn back the expense that went into them let alone your time, a better reason to write a memoir focuses on the most important audience you can find—you!
This is what all your life experience comes down to: it is/was transformative primarily for you—not for others. Remember how someone sat you down as a young persona and shared his/her life experience and concluded with “And my experience tells me you ought to do this or that!”
Were you likely to have changed your mind? Perhaps, yes; perhaps not. It depended on how that person’s experience corresponded with yours?
A Reason to write a memoir is that the writing brings us closer to being fully alive!
Joseph Campbell wrote, more than to access meaning, we seek to be fully alive. My own experience of writing my (many!) memoirs has been what it has brought to my understanding of my own life. The writing itself led to that understanding not the content of the writing. So…
I wouldn’t suggest that one ought to write for one’s descendants. That is not a good reason to write a memoir. One ought to write for one’ self. Your descendents may or may not benefit. I certainly believe that a function of memoir is to educate/inform but one can only be educated by another when one’s experience conforms to the experience of that other. Haven’t we all known intellectually that we ought to do this or that but until an experience transforms us we are unmoved by our knowledge?
Of course, our descendants will for the most part be thrilled to read about our lives, but that is not the same experience as having “success or failure in their lives” thanks to having or not having read a memoir. That transformation will be dependent on their life experience and their response to it. So…
Write for yourself. You are that important! You need no other reason to write a memoir.
See Robert Frost and The Arrest of Disorder which I wrote elsewhere on this blog.
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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