How To's and Tips, Documenting Your Story, Preserving Memories, Writing Your Memoir, Memoir

Creating a Memory List: Great Tips to Start Your Memoir

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Writing about your life may sound easy… until you sit down with that blank piece of paper or computer screen in front of you and your mind goes blank.

Been there.

So, how do you get over this?  I suggest by creating a memory list! Trying to write your lifestories without a memory list is like driving on a dark road without headlights. When you turn on those lights, you can then stay in between the lines and on the road.

It is worth taking some time to create a list of events that have occurred during your life, and I know even that may sound overwhelming. Let’s begin with a few ground rules and make it fun:

Start thinking about the major events from your past. When you married; had a child; went to college; graduated high school; visited your grandparents in the summer; moved to another state… On and on it will go!! Once you open that part of your brain where the memories are stored, they will just flow onto the paper. (Some of you may find that typing in a word processor works for you just as well as writing on paper. YOUR CHOICE. Later, in a future post, we will talk more about how different writing methods can elicit different results in our perspective on a life event.)

We are trying to create a list of random thoughts and recollections - hundreds of brief statements. This may take you a few days, to a week and maybe even several months. I recommend creating this list in a way that you can add to it as time goes on.

Some folks like to use a 3-ring binder where you can shift the pages around and increase the pages easily. Of course, if you are typing on a word processor, there is always, “cut and paste!”. Don’t worry about repeating yourself as you write, as that can be a clue to something on your mind that needs to be explored.

I suggest you start this way: mull and ponder a little! As the memories come, jot them down and write whatever comes to mind. Release that inner censor that tells you, “that word is not spelled right”, “it’s not a full sentence”, etc. Let the thoughts drift from your brain.

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Have you heard of free writing? Don’t lift your hands from the paper, just keep going! Sometimes, you will remember dates, names, places, and other obscure memories - but not the details, just yet! It’s OK to write in fragments and short bursts of thoughts. Think of an old-fashioned water pump: one must pump that handle until the water starts to flow, and when it does, it just gushes out! Don’t punctuate, spell check, try to create a sentence or even a paragraph. Keep your list where you can access it easily and add to it until you have several pages.

Once you have those many pages of memories written, let’s get them organized! Read through your list and choose 5 to 10 core events that you want to write about first. It’s important to consider what you think changed your life’s direction, what lesson you may have learned, who and why were the most important people, places or things that made you who you are today. These core events are where you begin. Now you may write a sentence and get that spelling right!!

Your stories are there waiting to be told. Your task is to let them emerge from the depths of your memory. (Quote borrowed from Turning Memories Into Memoirs, A Handbook for Writing Lifestories, by Denis Ledoux)

Next time we will discuss how to expand those sentences and begin to write your lifestories by using your senses!


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Documenting Your Story, Preserving Memories, Storytelling, Writing Your Memoir, Memoir

How to Start a Memoir

I remember when I was very young, and my father showed me my great grandmother's memoir that he and his cousins constructed into a book. Reading her memoir made my family history incredibly more meaningful. Because I never had the chance to meet her, Elizabeth's stories of living in the Great Depression, her experiences at Bennett College, how her father made my great grandfather wait to marry her, all painted a picture of the adventurous, intelligent, spirited woman that I was named after (well, my middle name). My great grandmother had no idea what impact her memoir would have on her great granddaughter, who might even read it to her granddaughter. I have a much greater admiration for my great grandmother, knowing that she took the time to carefully construct her memoirs, planting seeds she would not see the fruit of.

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So, why should you write a memoir? You most likely have explored the idea of writing your memoir, and are doing a bit of research into the process and best practices before you commit the time and energy. Whether you were inspired by a loved one's memoir or recently read a great memoir book (check out Jeanette Wall's The Glass Castle!), you're new to the idea and searching how to start a memoir. This post will help answer the why's and how's to get you started on writing your personal memoir.


First, let's start by explaining what a memoir actually is, not to be confused with an autobiography, book, or journal, though a personal memoir can be constructed from or into any of these. It is defined as a collection of memories that an individual writes about moments or events that took place in the subject's life. It can be any type of combination of history and reminiscence, personal or public.


Memoirs are not just for the famous or those who lived especially eventful lives. Everyone has a story to tell. You can simply be sharing with your children and grandchildren the family they were born into. Your personal piece of history might be the lasting legacy you give to future generations. Your memoir is a glimpse of a life they'll never experience and the memories you leave behind will be cherished and spread by your loved ones. Nobody has lived or seen the exact same things than you, in the same place and moment. But, of course, as we’re all humans, the stories that you tell will echo on the others - as we all live, love, hate, and die. 

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However, even if you have no children or you're not convinced anyone will read your stories, the personal fulfillment is worth it. A memoir is a way to reflect on who you used to be and the journey to where you are now. My great grandmother initially started her memoir for her own enjoyment. An ancient memory of blue Popsicle juice running down your sticky chin might be the forgotten sweet memory that will put a smile on your face. You don't need an audience in mind to write a memoir, and this may also contribute to a much more enjoyable experience when you're not distracted with the idea of who will be reading your thoughts.

Further, writing your memoir has been proven to result in improvements in both your psychological and physical health. According to one study, participants who frequently engaged in writing about their past, current relationships, and their emotions had significant mental and physical health benefits and social and behavioral improvements. To name a few, writers had reduced blood pressure, improved mood, altered social and linguistic behavior, feelings of greater psychological well-being, a higher grade point average, and improved memory.


Pretty astounding, right? If simply writing your memoir has all these benefits, why isn't everyone doing it? Staring at a blank piece of paper or screen when you have a lifetime of memories inside of your head may seem like a daunting task. To help get you started on your personal memoir, we've put together an introduction to writing your memoir with best practices, tips and tricks, and inspirational writing topics! You can download the FREE guide below:

Download the Intro to Writing Your Memoir Guide! 

You're now convinced of the importance of writing your memoir and you have the tools to do so. As William Zinsser said, "Writers are the custodians of memory." Take the time and write your memoir. Make it yours. You'll feel good and maybe with a little luck and patience, you might touch others too.  

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TSOLife, a personal historian service and online tool to help you capture, record, preserve and share the story of a life well lived. TSOLife makes it easy and enjoyable to document a personal history that will be cherished by future generations. We invite you to schedule a FREE hour with a personal historian to help start documenting your life story.

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