The story of your life

Writing a memoir is important—and easier than you think



“Why write my memoir?”

“I am not a writer.”

“Nothing in my life has been that interesting.”

“I don’t know how to get started.”

Those are typical comments people make when asked if they have considered writing their memoirs. The fact is the most interesting memoirs are written by people who believe themselves average. Everyone who has lived a long life has overcome numerous obstacles, dealt with tragedy, and survived countless setbacks. If you are here today, you have accomplished something. You have won at life. And you deserve the right to share your story with others.

Some people have told me that no one in their family cares about their life journey— so why write a memoir? The kids or grandkids are so wrapped up in their own lives there is no time to learn about family members who preceded them. Maybe that is true today, but at some point, maybe decades from now, someone will wonder about Grandpa’s life or Grandma’s journey and wish they had a written document to refer to. You will be doing future generations a favor by recording your memoirs. It will be treasured by a future generation who finds history, especially their own family history, fascinating.

But how do you get started? If, like many people, you groaned when your junior high school teacher assigned an essay, don’t worry. There is a secret that I’ll share right now. Write as if you are talking with a family member or friend. Sit down at your computer or writing pad and pretend you are talking to your spouse, child, or good friend. Write as you talk. Keep it simple. There is no need to worry about making the story funny or adventurous. Just write it as if you were speaking.

Jogging memories that one has not thought about for decades can be a challenge. The best method is to focus on one life event at a time; for instance, your school years, your first job, military service, and so on. If the memories don’t come immediately, don’t worry. It will take some time—perhaps weeks—for your mind to get used to and better at recalling memories. The good news is that the more you work at it, the better you will get.

Once the memories are flowing, it is important to structure what you are writing. Put the information in chapters using broad categories. For instance, use major life events (youth, marriage, raising kids, retirement) as chapters.

This is only a suggestion. Use a structure that works best for you. Whatever works best for you is what you should use.

Once you have decided on a structure, get busy. Start writing. Fill up those chapters with every memory you can.

Once you are done, don’t hesitate to share your work. Give copies to kids, cousins, friends, anyone and everyone.

Finally, add a disclaimer. Two people will write about the same event in far different ways. Write at the beginning of the memoir that these are your memories, and others may have a different recollection of the same events.

Jim Koepke lives in Hoyt Lakes. He is an author, teacher, and founder of the Bloomington Writer’s Festival. Jim’s writing career began when his Aurora-Hoyt Lakes High School English teacher encouraged him to develop his writing skills. Now retired, Jim shares his knowledge of writing and recording personal memoirs.

If you follow Jim’s advice while writing your memoir, consider sharing part of your story with Hometown Focus readers. Email to learn more about contributing stories.

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