How to prepare to write your memoir, even if you do it yourself

Where do you start, when you’re thinking about writing the story of your life? I was recently asked this question by someone who very much wanted to write his story, but was daunted by the ‘how on earth to do it’ factor.

Whether you’re writing about your entire life, a period of time, or an experience, I think many people get stuck at this question!

It reminds me of when my father died and we had to clean out his shed. For starters the man was a plumber and liked to fix everything himself, so he had hundreds of tools and goodness knows how many things to fix things with. Then there was his urge to use every, single space in his shed, right down to the little patch on the wall he hung old washers on.

Some friends turned up to help and they had a clever strategy: just start. So we did. And bit by bit, over a few days, we sorted out that shed.

In your case I’m suggesting the same. Get yourself somewhere to write some notes and start ‘brain storming’ key events, memories, people that must appear in your story. Let them out, those important memories. Just short sentences will do the job or key words. No need to tell the whole story, just write words that will remind you to share more, when you’re ready to go into more detail.

Next, if you’re writing your entire life story, start yourself a good ol’ fashioned time line. Take all those ideas and try to order them by date. If you need help – reach out. Maybe you have family with far better memories for dates and events than you do? Do the best you can and remember – this is not a test. This is your life story – you’re the expert.

Then, if you’ve done your ‘brain dump’ and your ‘time line’ this is a good time to either find someone to help you to write your memoir, or, if you’re going DIY, start filling in the blanks.

When I work with clients, I generally (but not always) record their memories in audio form on my iPhone. You could do this too.

I’m working with a client right now who has recorded 100,000 words onto an old dictaphone. We’re transcribing his entire life story from sessions he had, on his own, last year. It was a project he took to with a vengeance. For a few months, most days he’d start recording on his dictaphone and start talking. He did it methodically, remembering stories from his from birth, until now. He did over 70 recordings and I have marvelled at what he managed to remember about his life.

The thing is, once you get thinking about different stages of your life, more memories arise. The more you focus on it, the more you remember. One client I had last year was initially not used to talking about herself at all, but once she started, the floodgates opened and she rejoiced at the memories she discovered. She also occasionally apologised for talking so much! But I assured her that those sessions with her were gold! Now we have dozens of audio files of her talking for her family, alongside the book I’ve written from those memories.

Whether you’re doing it alone or with help, remember, everybody has a story to share. The stories of our elders help us bridge the gap to our ancestors, so we know who and where we came from.


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