Several have asked me how to determine what they should write when they are building their autobiography, family history, memoirs and such.
My response is invariably, it depends.
When I was cub writer the first lesson drummed into my head was "nobody cares about you and what you think". But that was journalism where arms-length reporting is essential to maintaining accuracy and integrity. Readers of Editorials, of course, expect interpretation and personal commentary of current events.
Both journalism and editorial writing are very different than the kind of writing you would do if you're writing a book or a collection of your thoughts to leave for your children and grandchildren.
You don't need to worry about meeting all kinds of criteria set forth by the publishing industry. You're not trying to write a best seller.There are no deadlines to meet. You don't need to create characters or plots. You don't even need to worry about whether you will satisfy anyone but yourself and your reader.
Start by getting comfortable with whatever tools you choose – paper and pencil, typewriter, computer – it doesn't matter.
The very best way to start is to imagine yourself sitting in the same room – maybe across the table sharing a cup of coffee (or tea or milk) with your reader.
Simply begin as if you were writing a letter. "Dear Precious Grandchild….", you might begin, "I have so much to share with you…".
From there you can pour your heart out. The idea is to give your reader a glimpse of all the wonders you've experienced in your life, the lessons learned, your vision of a better world for them. Tell your reader stories:.
- how did your dad, who didn't even graduate from 8th grade, manage to support a family of 10?
- what are your most memorable experiences about the vacations your family took out West in the old family Hudson? .
- what was it like growing up without a fancy toys, a color TV, a cell phone of your very own?
- what was it like when Elvis Presley or the Beatles first emerged to transform music forever?
- were you there at Woodstock in August 1969?
- how did seeing man walk on the moon – the assassination of JFK – affect you?
- how did you get your first job?
- what were the most challenging struggles you experienced?
You won't remember everything all at once – unless you've diligently kept your personal journals or diaries up to date. You'll come back many times to fill in the blanks. That's normal. Whenever you recall something new that you'd like to share give yourself plenty of time to relive the memory. You want to include all the suspense you experienced at the time, all the color, the emotions, and how it all affected you.
Remember that collection of photos we talked about in previous posts? As you sort through them, they're sure to jog your memory and and help you fill in the blanks. Include them with the text of your story whenever appropriate.
There are no limits other than what you choose to set for yourself and what you want to share with your current and future loved ones. When people look back into history, or try to learn more about their heritage, they often are disappointed because there is so little in the way of the human experience. Remember, how we learned to memorize dates and names…how how little those all meant because we felt no connection with the people involved? Remember how the Diary of Anne Frank, Angela's Ashes and others grab at our heartstrings? That's what we want to do in sharing our experience with our heirs.