Writing Memoir & Preserving the past

Three years ago, “The Bucket List” came out in movie theaters across the nation. Two terminally ill men drew up a wish list and then hit the road to accomplish those things before they “kicked the bucket.” Soon after thousands of people created their own bucket list, websites sprung up, magazine articles written, and the word “bucket list” became a slang term in popular culture.

People became inspired to dream and to write those dreams down on paper or online. I was one of those thousands of people. And at the top of my list was “write a story for publication.” That was it, I didn’t specify length, genre, or attach a time and date. And I didn’t define ‘publication.’

A natural starting point was to write what I know. And the only thing I thought I knew were the stories I heard about my grandparents, mother, and my own experiences. But the question of how to start and organize this project led me to wonder how to begin. I didn’t have to search far. In my mailbox, I found a pamphlet from the local Adult Continuing Education. I flipped through it and thought, who has the time? Then I glanced at the words “Do you want to write? Preserving your Past is a chance to document your stories about growing up, family life and events that have shaped your life. No previous experience in writing is necessary to gain enjoyment and insight from this class.” So there it was, waiting for me to send in a nominal fee.

The weekly classes were just what I needed to get started. My fellow students were a diverse group of men and women, all older than I was (free class for over 60), and often times much more energetic. I had a ball in those classes with fascinating people who were encouraging, supportive, and sources of wisdom.  

Soon I decided to write a life history for my own family. My mother was an orphan at a young age and she could recall only knew bits and pieces of my grandparent’s lives. I wanted my mother’s grandchildren to know about their great grandparents, their children and the stories that comprised their Nana’s life. Time is fleeting so I got to work and interviewed my mother and her cousin, who knew more about the grandparents than my mother could remember.

Organization of the book was easier with an objective. Know whom you are writing the memoir for. If it is for close family or friends you might use a more personal writing style rather than if it was for a more public audience. This was a story for my extended family only and I wrote it in narrative with dialogue and photos to show more about the people and their history. This helped me stay focused on what I wanted to say.

Create an outline of everything you want to include. Relevant background information, i.e., early life family events and difficulties – economic, emotional and physical, births and deaths, and other life-shaping situations are important as well as funny stories, bits of wisdom, and folktales. Once this is information is collected, get to writing. Remember a basic rule, “write first and edit later.”

The life history I wrote began with my grandparents. How they met, the story of her kidnapping (mutual decision), their wedding (by proxy) and their travels from Guanajuato during the Mexican Revolution to the barrio of Little Siloa in Pomona, California. Significant events included the Great Depression, World War II, migrant work, education, Christmas traditions, weddings, careers, illness, and death. The good and the not so good made its way into the history. Your family may not want to read that or you might want to leave certain things out. It’s your call.

Once you complete the memoir or life story, you may want to self-publish through any of several online publishers. I used Blurb.com and was very happy with the product I received. The book was reasonable in cost, printed as a softback, and ninety pages.

I gave the book, “Remembering, before I Forget,” as Christmas presents for my mother, siblings, and cousins. It was gratifying to see everyone reading the story, laughing, and asking my mother questions. And it was encouraging to be able to cross something off the ‘bucket list.” 

Two years ago, I replaced it with something more specific “Write a fiction novel.” And now after two manuscripts I’ve added, “Get an agent and publish the novels.” One-half is accomplished and now we wait for the other half. I’m looking forward to cross that off my list. Until then I’m getting ready to go white water rafting next week and I’m taking my list with me.


Categories: Preserving your past, Writing, writing life story, writing memoir

1 reply

  1. I need to talk to some of my relatives before they take their part of our story to the grave.

    Like

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