Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hot Memoir Writing Tips from the Experts

Writing our life stories--preserving our family history to share with future generations! It certainly sounds like a great idea. It makes perfectly good sense on an intellectual level, but how about from a practical standpoint? Hmmm…

Questions immediately arise, with doubts seeping in not far behind:

·         With so many stories covering a multitude of years, how can I possibly decide what needs to be included?

·         How do I make sure I can even remember the important highlights?

·         Who will be interested in reading what I’ve written?

·         I’ve never been an especially good writer. How can I write stories that are interesting and worthy of being passed along for others to enjoy and understand who we were and how we lived?

Over the course of my next few blog posts, we will explore these topics and more to help you successfully embark and steadily progress on your memoir project.

And guess what? You don’t have to listen to me, Mary Anne Benedetto, saying, “Just do it!” I have invited a few fabulous memoir experts to join us and offer some of their excellent tips.

What’s the best part? These tips are free and our gifts to you, so there’s no excuse!

In this first segment, author and speaker, Joy DeKok, shares some of her special words of wisdom about legacy writing projects:

Joy’s Tip #1. Write raw, at least in the first draft. That copy is for your benefit. If there's a lot of anger or hurt involved, getting it out is good for you. Getting the written copy out so it won't anger or hurt anyone is good for everyone.

I have to completely agree with Joy. In my workshops, I always advocate writing all of the stories--even the tough ones, perhaps those events that no one else may be aware of, the stories that you have tucked away for years and hoped to bury. Writing about them can give you a new perspective on the impact that those events ultimately had on your life.

Then you can decide whether or not to include them in your final document--especially if they are hurtful to others who are living. You may even choose to write them and then send them up in smoke with a burning match. That is entirely up to you.

You do want to be particularly careful about not maligning others if you intend to publish your work. No one needs or welcomes litigation.

Great advice is to write all of your stories and then decide what will end up on the cutting room floor. 

One last note on this topic: I always say that, as difficult as it may be, forgiveness generates many benefits. Forgiveness doesn’t condone bad behavior, but it frees you from carrying the poisonous burden of bitterness in your veins.

Joy’s Tip #2. Write it the way you remember it. A lot of Legacy Keepers worry they might remember it wrong or differently than others. That's okay. Two (or more) people can experience the same event or time and record it differently due to their experience, knowledge, and intuition. It's important to get the facts as right as you can, but sometimes what you noticed that someone else didn't, is essential to your legacy.

I love this tip of Joy’s as well. It reminds me about the two sisters and one brother who attended one of my workshops. I had previously worked with spouses, but never siblings. As they began to discuss different aspects of their lives while they were growing up, they all had the most incredulous expressions on their faces. Finally one of the sisters said, “Are you talking about the same house I grew up in?”

I thought about another situation where a client’s sister asked to read his stories. After digesting them she said, “I don’t remember it that way at all.” He asked me if he should change his stories to agree with her recollections, and I said, “Absolutely not! This is the way you experienced it, and if she doesn’t agree, let her write her own version.”

It simply proves that even with the same parents, environment and household, we have experienced life as individuals and may have very different perspectives. While it can be helpful to confer with other family members about their recollections, be sure to write your own accounting. It is your unique story.

A special thank you to Joy DeKok for offering her wonderful tips today!
Joy DeKok

Joy is an author, speaker and advocate of preserving our written legacies. She has written several books, including: Your Life a Legacy, Your Life a Legacy for Kids and Your Life a Legacy for Teens.

Please visit Joy at and

Thanks so much for joining us, and we’ll be back soon with more memoir writing experts and their suggestions!

Mary Anne Benedetto

Certified Lifewriting Instructor

7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build

a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!


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