Memoir writing isn’t just for the rich and famous. Everyone has a story to tell, if only they will allow themselves to uncover and write it. By choosing a specific part of your life, or a theme that is important to you, your memoir will be manageable to write and interesting to read.
When people ask what writing project I’m working on, I tell them I’m writing a memoir. Their raised eyebrows and quizzical expressions express their thoughts. Being an ordinary person, I’ve achieved little that is different from other people. Won’t my memoir be boring?
We’re told everyone has a story in them. Each of our stories is unique. If we don’t write them down, no one else will. There are two secrets to writing a successful memoir from what I see – be brave enough to do so and don’t attempt your whole life. Focus on an aspect with special significance to who you are today. I’ve chosen the second.
This may sound strange, but apart from four years of concentrating on motherhood, I’ve never left school. I started at my local primary school fifty-eight years ago and now I’m back there teaching. In between I moved through the school system until graduating from High School, went directly to Teachers College and have been teaching ever since.
Even this is broad memoir material, so I chose to narrow it down, to a mere six years of my life, my first six years at school. These occurred during the 1950s. With a specific time and setting for my stories, memories of a girl who loved her teachers, loved learning and loved everything about her school, I was ready to start.
I had specific motivation for choosing this part of my life. A few years ago I returned to my original school as a teacher. The children were studying school life in Grandma’s day, which I realised was the 1950s, the years I spent at their school. I became the major resource, telling stories of what school was like back then. The idea of writing my stories down appealed. When I heard the school would be celebrating its centenary in 2013 I had a focus and a deadline. My memoir writing began.
I read as much as possible about writing memoir, some of which I’ve shared with you in previous articles. Wanting to get a feel for how the genre should be written, I read as many memoir and life stories as possible, with consideration to what works for me as a reader. I’ve tested my writing style by publishing several little life stories online, the feedback from these giving me a feel about what readers enjoy.
The writing started. The more I wrote, the more I remembered. I became more aware of what others were saying when discussing their early school days. I read anything about 1950s schooling I could lay my hands on, as well as fiction from the period to trigger my memory even further. I attended exhibitions relating to that period of time. In other words, I tuned in to the 1950s, trying to recapture the girl I was and what it had been like for me.
It’s been a busy time, and have recorded many anecdotal stories and memories. They weren’t written in chronological order, but as they occurred to me, with one often leading to another. I believe I now have enough material to move forward, to the second phase of my memoir writing, organising the material so it’s readable. How I go about this will be the topic of another article, so do keep watching. I’m excited to be taking this next step and look forward to sharing it with you.
Other articles about writing memoir by Val Mills:
|Memoir Writing: How Senses Improve Your Story|