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Why this may be the right time to start on a project for future generations

Q. I have a project in mind during this pandemic. Having missed this from my parents, I would like to write down my history for my kids and grandchild. Being 85+ and going through 2020 and 2021 has given me the desire to look at my life journey and hopefully to have the future generations know me a little better. My six Zoom classes have given me the desire to go ahead with this project. Fortunately, my mental facilities are still good and exceed my ambulatory/balance motor skills. I do need some guidance on how to begin and follow through. Many thanks. S.J.

A. You have picked the perfect time to embark on such a project. Memoir writing requires time to reflect, to think about the past and translate your memories and experiences into a narrative. All of this requires some time.

Writing a memoir is about remembering. The root of the word comes from the French word “memoire” which means memory. A memoir is about remembering, reminiscing and reflecting on experiences of our lives.

A memoir is not an autobiography. The latter is the story of a person’s life written by that person. A memoir is a collection of memories written by that person that establishes an emotional connection to the reader, rather than simply presenting the facts around his or her life. Based on the author’s personal knowledge, it tells an intimate and emotional story and typically does not include biographical or chronological aspects of the author’s life unless they are meaningful and relevant to the story. Amanda Patterson, founder of Writers Write, suggests five characteristics of a successful memoir that can translate into action steps

Entertain: Your memoir needs to come alive and entertain the reader, including a bit of drama to create some emotion of the human experience. It’s important to write about what happened and then your thoughts about it. It can’t be boring.

Make the reader think: In your case, you want your children and grandchild to relate to your story and connect the story to their own lives. They will not have the same experiences as you but should be able to relate to the emotions you feel and situations you have experienced. To accomplish this, consider focusing on a theme such as resilience, gratitude, redemption or overcoming adversity.

Be authentic: Readers of your memoir want to feel a connection that can be achieved through being genuine, creating intimacy and sharing some vulnerability. Your memoir requires an honest accounting of your life.

Provide an opportunity to learn: The person writing the memoir should be a different person at the end of the memoir. The reader wants to see some change in the author through experiences and reflections. The memoir may describe moments that demonstrate that it is never too late to start over again, improvement over time and changes during one’s lifetime.

Create a memory: One criterion of success is that the reader remembers the theme or emotions conveyed. Readers not only learn more about the facts of the memoirist’s life, but also understand the relationship between writers and a particular time or event in their lives.

Here are a few additional practical pointers:

  • The memoir has an introduction with an attention-grabbing opening.

  • It uses the first person, “I” not we, one or you.

  • You, the writer, are the main character in the story.

  • The writing is subjective.

  • It is graphic allowing the reader to envision what is happening, including the setting.

  • The memoir includes personal conversations and anecdotes.

  • It sounds more like literature than a report.

  • The reader learns more about life by reading about your life.

A memoir can be a benefit to the writer by providing an opportunity to make sense out of one’s life; it can be cathartic. There are personal rewards that allow one to come to terms with events – both good and bad – which can foster personal growth.

A memoir is a precious legacy. However, there are some red lights of caution which often are overlooked. Misinterpretations or presentations can lead to misunderstandings in marriages and sometimes friction within families. The writer needs to be aware of what are considered emotional landmines.

Thank you, S.J., for your timely question. Your commitment may inspire others to embark on their memoir journey. And what better time than now. Best wishes on enjoying the excursion and sharing your memoir with family and friends. It will be a gift. Stay safe and well and be kind to yourself and others.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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