What things do you wish you’d asked your parents or grandparents? Write them down. These are the things your children will want to know about you. Start filling in your answers to these questions, a little bit at a time. Don’t worry about your writing style at this point; just get the facts down. Keep adding to your answers as new details come to mind. This will all become resource for you when you’re ready to start organizing the pieces into a meaningful whole.
I recently worked with a client who had been gathering the details of his life in this way for more than 10 years. His children gave him a “memoir journal” in 1994, and he started filling out its pages, little by little. By the time he was ready to have me help him turn it into a book—The Geertsema Chronicles—he had a wonderful collection of memorable stories, illustrated with old photographs and documents. What made it a very readable memoir was the amount of detail he was able to capture. And he was able to do that because (1) he used questions to guide his writing, and (2) he took his time getting the details down on paper.
There are many different types of “memoir journals” available now. I have used To Our Children’s Children, available from Amazon.com. And Colleen Boudreau makes a point of encouraging writers to choose a journal whose physical look and feel will inspire writing. I find the journal’s content more important than its appearance—I look for questions that will intrigue me, that will probe for details, that will make me think of old things in new ways. Since I do my writing on the computer, I don’t depend much on the style of the journal itself. I simply open up a blank page, type in one of the questions from the journal, and start typing my answer. Still, if a journal’s physical style will make you look forward to writing, then by all means, choose one you find inspiring!
And if you get to a point where you need help turning your notes into a printed hardcover or paperback book, worthy to become an heirloom, I can certainly help with that. Check my “Manuscript services” page for some basic information.
A memoir is a journey, not a destination. (The words journey and journal are similar for a reason!) Take your time and relish the exploration. Ideally, you’ll appreciate the process as much as the printed product.