“Worth the time to write?” I repeated—raising my voice into a question—when a man said to me at a conference where I was speaking that most people didn’t have a memoir that was worth their time to write. “Not only is every life worth writing about,” I countered, “but the writing of a memoir is a healing and developmental process for the writer. There is something in the telling of a tale that produces satisfaction and resolution and often growth.”
“I don’t know about the healing,” he said, “but I do know that most people haven’t done anything interesting enough to write about, let alone have someone else read it.”
“I don’t think children and grandchildren feel that way,” I answered. “I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t happy to have a memoir by a father or mother.”
“Well, okay,” he conceded, “but who else is interested?”
“First of all, the size of the audience is not what makes the writing of a memoir significant. There is worth in the telling itself.”
An Important Point
While there continues to be an insatiable hunger to know about one’s family and culture, the man’s commentary, of course, held an important point for you—for any of us—to consider. If you have not led a momentous life, are the stories you have to share worth the time to write them?—speak them, yes, because sharing a memoir is a meaningful way one generation transmits stories to another. But, writing them is so much more difficult—is the sacrifice of time and energy really worth it for you?
Let me repeat: it is appropriate to write stories solely for a family or other small readership. There is nothing “wrong” or not worthwhile with a small, familial audience. The value of any piece of writing is not measured by how many people—total numbers—have read it. This emphasis on size is a spin-off of the commercialization of worth. It is a result of the creation and promotion of the “superstar” in our culture.
The worth of a memoir is better measured by the inherent value to the writer and to its selected audience—whether that is your family or the world. The act of writing will change you and your relationship to your life. Writing is significant in itself.
“Writers, if they are worthy of that jealous designation, do not write for other writers. They write to give reality to experience.”
- For whom do you want to write your stories? This is your audience. The answer could be as varied as: for my family; for parents of Down Syndrome children; for men who are about to retire; for women who love judo. Describe them, their needs and their interests in some detail.
- Why do you want to write for these people? In what way, do you need for them to hear your stories? In what way, do they need to hear your stories? Again, write lengthy responses.
- Write about the immortality writing will bring you as your memoir and family history live on into future generations long after you are gone. Is this important and comforting to you?
- Place your writing from this exercise in a three-ring binder.
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Denis Ledoux is the author, most recently, of How to Start to Write Your Memoir which is Book One in the seven-part Memoir Network Writing Series. This post is adapted from that e-book. Also in publication is Don’t Let Writer’s Block Stop You. A complete list of publications is available. To be placed on an alert list, send an email.