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Prolonged sheltering in place for seniors has been taking an emotional toll. Separated from loved ones, loneliness and boredom become an everyday threat to health and well-being.
Yet this shut-in time can be an opportunity to create a priceless family heirloom: a personal memoir.
Children, grandchildren, and generations beyond want to know about their ancestors. How many times has each of us had questions we wish our dearly departed were still around to answer? Leaving a legacy of words about who you are and what happened in your life will be treasured.
How to Write Your Memoir
Putting It Off
Just as annotating photos helps future generations know more about family history, passing along detailed stories results in a more compelling life narrative. Yet, few take the time to tell their stories. As the humorist, Garrison Keillor recently wrote:
"I'm trying to finish a memoir and I realize now how much I don't know and I was too busy careering around as my elders began taking the long walk and I didn't sit down and ask for the story. My elders were self-effacing Midwesterners brought up not to talk about personal things and they kept many secrets from me such as how did the men fall in love with the women and vice versa, they being such righteous folk and sensible and circumspect."
The problem with memoirs is they seem like a gigantic task; many don't know where to start, so they give up. Instead of viewing the project as a mountain to climb, think of it as a series of small hills. You don't have to climb all of these hills, just the ones you like.
Still, where to start? Writing teachers often provide writing prompts to students. These are ideas that help remove the, "I don't know what to write about" objection. For a memoir, some writing prompts are:
- Strong memories, no matter what they are or when they happened.
- Persons you know who are important to you – parents, grandparents, siblings, childhood friends.
- Places you lived, especially specific rooms that meant something to you.
- Other locations that have meaning for you – vacation spots, schools, parks, or friends' homes.
- Events you have participated in or witnessed, pleasant or otherwise.
- Sort through old photos – write about one that inspires a vivid memory.
Still need help? Check out our post, 10 Tips to Overcome Writer's Block!
Just Start Writing
Using these prompts, just start writing! If you are still stuck, keep these tips in mind:
- Your entries don't have to be any specific length. Make it easy by beginning with a few sentences. You can always go back later to add or make changes.
- Don't get hung up on the format. Use a notebook, note cards, a word processor, or whatever medium feels comfortable.
- Forget about chronological order for now. Although it may feel you are accumulating a pile of unrelated snippets, these eventually can be organized in the logical order. Just make sure to include dates in all the entries.
- If you feel really stuck, consider enrolling in a memoir class. There are many online options for this. An experienced instructor can help overcome common roadblocks in the memoir process.
Writing Is Not My Thing
Perhaps you're motivated to create a personal memoir but lack confidence in your writing skills. There are ways around that, too:
- Try capturing stories on a voice recorder. Most smartphones have an easy-to-use voice memo function.
- Turn a Zoom teleconference into a memory recording session. When talking to family or friends, activate the recording function on Zoom or other video conference tool, and tell a memorable story.
- Voice recordings can be transcribed if desired. Websites like Rev.com offer automated transcription services at a reasonable cost.
- Whatever medium you choose, make sure it is organized so entries can be found again easily. Label each one so previous information can be found for editing or to prevent unnecessary duplication.
- Include context for situations and how people are related to each other. These are essential details future generations may not know.
- Set a goal for adding more memories. Add a weekly calendar appointment for 30 minutes of memory writing or recording.
- Consider asking a trusted friend or family member to help you keep on track with the project. At the very least, make sure you tell someone about the memoir and where to find the information. While it is not necessary to reveal the work in progress, it is vital to make sure this invaluable knowledge can ultimately be passed along as intended.
This is Part 3 of the Positive Ways to Cope with COVID-19 Isolation blog series. Click here to read Part 1, Technology Boost, or read Part 2, Photo Archive here. To make sure you don't miss future posts, subscribe to our blog!