Why Write a Memoir?

Outtakes 184

Why Write a Memoir?

By Cait Collins


The quick answer to the question is, why not? We all have something to say about our lives or periods of our lives. That said, a memoir can be an effective communication tool. Sometimes we might want to just tell a story, but some memoirs have a distinct purpose. The reasons to write a memoir include: to inspire, to inform, and to persuade.

Everyone has experienced tragedy or challenges. How did you overcome the problem?

Did you fall into a deep depression? What made you decide to work your way back? Have you ever watched a child struggle to excel despite learning disabilities? What made the effort so memorable and what affect did it have on you? Mapping the journey from tragedy to triumph may inspire someone else to find a path to recovery. Your words may be the spark for one person to determine to overcome the problems in his life. We all need inspiration to smooth out the rough edges of our experiences. I wrote First Love; Forever Love as a means to let others know there is hope.

“What kind of computer games did you play when you were a kid?” This question came from a student in my Sunday morning Bible class. “My childhood was long before the computer age. I didn’t touch a computer until I was in my 30’s.” His eyes bulged. “No computers? What did you do for fun?”Obviously my young friend did not know it was possible to enjoy life without staring at a computer screen. Tables, a work in progress, tells of growing up a military brat in the 50’s and 60’s. We had a blast back then. Kids today don’t know what they missed, but I hope they will learn from the stories.

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, uses reminences of growing up in the South to portray life in the heartland or the “fly-over zone.” His commentary offers a contrast in the culture between the .east and west coasts and Middle America. God, Guns, Grits and Gravy explains how and why we are so different. Sweetened with humor, spiced with down-home sayings, and peppered with sarcasm, Governor Huckabee makes a strong case for the simpler way of life. He has convinced me my momma and daddy and his parents must have known each other well, because my folks didn’t tolerate disrespect and disobedience any more the Governor’s did. I normally speed read a book, but I’m slowing down so that I can savor the narrative. It is a good read and very persuasive.

Memoirs should not be relegated to the lives of the rich and famous. History is not just the deeds of great men and women; it is also the stories of everyday folks who lived their lives quietly, doing their best to make a living, raise their children, and get along with their fellow man. The stories of all races, nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds weave the fabric of the human experience. All stories are necessary to complete the pattern of history. So why write a memoir?

Why not write a memoir?

Writing Your Family History

Writing Your Family History

By Natalie Bright 

You might be drawn to write, but maybe the thought of  crafting a novel makes you cringe. Have you considered starting with something fun, like your family history? If that seems overwhelming, start small.  Write about one event that happened.

Is there a right way or a wrong way to write your family’s history?

A million different ways:

A letter found by one of my friends in her favorite Aunt’s Bible, led to a story that was contracted by an anthology. The project fell through before it made it to the printing presses. Many years later, she submitted a reworked version of the same story to a regional magazine, and it was featured as a web exclusive. It’s since appeared in newspapers and on website year after year.

As a writer and history fanatic, I scan used book stores for first-hand accounts of regional events and family bios. There’s nothing like reading about the details of life from long ago. It’s these kinds of tidbits that make your stories come alive. I’ve discovered history in many different formats. Here are a few of my favorites.

Examples of family memoirs turned into published works:

So Great a Heritage  by Kathie Jackson

Best example of chronological and organized narration. Taking letters written by her father, Sgt. Cecil Turner, she follows his journey from WWII training camps, North Africa, Italy, France, Germany. In between his letters she provides historical detail of the 1940’s – the places, people, the battles, descriptions of the land, and sprinkled with letters he received from his parents.

Tate Publishing, Mustang OK

Growing Up In the Bradford Oil Fields by Jim Messer

Not really a chronological order, but invaluable for writers. This man’s father worked as an oil well shooter and he wrote this book for his kids. He wanted them to know what it was like growing up in the oilfields of Pennsylvania, one of the oldest producing oil fields in the world. His father delivered the nitroglycerin to the location for well ‘fracing’, or fracturing of the pay zones, a completion procedure first begun at the turn of the century. He goes into great detail about delivery systems and how they stored the nitro, how a cable tool rig works. Xlibris Corporation – self-publishing internet site

I saw Jesus this Morning by Mike Bellah, Ph.D.

Took a personal, very private experience and turned it into an extremely inspirational Bible study type book.

The Wednesday Monster by Kellie R. Sanders

Her mother, as a little girl, survived a tornado in 1947 Woodward, OK. This is a very detailed, academic look at the events of that day. Newspaper articles provide information, and includes first hand accounts of survivors which are printed in italics word-per-word. Through her research for this book, a shorter article was written for the Panhandle-Plains Historical Review. (Think about using your research to generate articles for magazines, regional newsletters, etc.)

Christmas in Old Tascosa by Judy Wise

An 81-year-old mother looks out of the window at a snow storm over Pudget Sound in the Pacific Northwest and says, “I remember a snowstorm … in Texas … in Tascosa.  I was a little girl.” Her daughter said, “Tell us.”

After she told the story, the daughters planned a trip to the Texas Panhandle. The mother flew in from Florida, one daughter from Arizona, and one from Washington, and they drove through the Texas Panhandle visiting the places of their mother’s childhood and having her retell the story over and over, making note of every detail. They knew someone who knew Red Steagal, he loved the story and referred the manuscript to Texas Tech Press. You just never know where your story might lead you. Don’t hesitate. Just follow!

Oil People by Natalie Bright

Based in part on the work my husband does as a petroleum geologist, this is a self-published book meaning I paid the publisher. I did submit this to numerous university presses and received extremely encouraging rejection letters, which is why I decided to save my money and keep control of the content.

At A Snails Pace

Keep in mind, the time frame for publishing is slow, slow. If a university or small area press accepts your story, it could be up to 18 months or longer before you have a book in hand. A self-published project can take a few months, but typos and grammar are your responsibility.

The key, I think, is organization of info and a theme.

Follow Your Heart

Theme = place, the person, the dates, the event. Why are you writing this book? What is the main focus or idea that you wish to convey to a reader?

I’ve met so many people with amazing family stories. They’re more than willing to talk about it, but so afraid of messing up. Writing words on a blank page is a frightening process to some people. If there’s a story that’s pressing upon your mind and heart,  don’t stress. Just do it. Be open minded. Maybe you have a book in mind, so start with small articles on specific events. Be flexible so that you can move segments and paragraphs around, rearranging the information until it flows into something you’ll be proud of. The thing about writing is you keep learning as you’re doing.

It’s amazing sometimes, the journey your written words will take you

Okay people, get busy because I can hardly wait to read your family stories!



by Sharon Stevens

“If I were a rich man…yubby dibby,dibby,dum…”

In “Fiddler on the Roof” you can just hear the music building, see Tevye dancing and waving his arms as he sings of what he would do if he became rich? With his glee you forget that his horse is lame, and he has had to pull the milk wagon home with the harness around his own body. At this point you don’t know that when he enters the barn there will not be enough feed for his animals, or when he goes into his house that along with his wife cooking a meager Sabbath supper, that she is also cooking up grand ideas with the local matchmaker to marry off the eldest of their three daughters, and the means to do this without a dowry.

I bet he wishes he had a band-aid.

When our oldest daughter was born, my husband’s co-worker passed on a simple tradition to a new father. He said to always carry band-aids in his wallet, ready for any emergency that may befall a child. He told him that he raised two daughters and these came in handy, and he continues this tradition for his grandkids. Ever since then when anyone needs a band-aid I know I don’t have to scrounge through every drawer in the house littered with useless odds and ends. I can go straight to my husband and he will reach into his wallet and share what he carries within. It may be a strip of Snoopy, or Batman or just plain, old, everyday adhesive. Any will do the job. On a side note, he knows he doesn’t have to worry about exposing his cache of money for me to raid, there isn’t any there.

Our oldest daughter, Andrea Keller, carried this tradition out to Camp Kiwanis as a Girl Scout counselor. Every year we packed a supply of band-aids for her stash. She noticed early on that so many girls were home sick or had an imaginary hurt that needed some attention. All it took was choosing a band-aid and applying it to the site of the damage, and the girls instantly had something to cover their so-called wound, but now also had something to show off to her fellow campers.

All of us in the Wordsmith six blog write differently. There is room for all. I write of tradition…simple joys…family memories. Precious stuff to me. But so many times I harbor a rage, a pain, a sorrow, a wound that slices deeply, unseen to the naked eye. I alone know it is there. The cut only comes from an outside source, never from within. I need to keep this in mind when I feel the stab fester and fill with pus until the angry edges explode spewing everyone within range with the stench of filth, decay, and death. If only I had kept it covered from the beginning. One, it would have healed quicker and not scared as badly. Two, no one would have known it was there in the first place. You don’t question a band-aid.

From now on I will apply an imaginary strip of adhesive as a cover. When I write of the wonder and blessings that surround me, under the surface I may feel doom and despair. But knowing I can stick on a band-aid to provide shelter, and that this will shield me with the love of my husband and the sweet memories of my daughters, and also my friends, neighbors, teachers, mentors and community already lessens the pain. I feel I can be at peace knowing that this can protect the wound, no matter how ugly it has become, and will also hide what others perceive only visible to them.

Shawn Smucker came through with the invitation of Jason Boyett and spoke at the Palace Coffee Shop in Canyon. His blogs, “Writing Across America” share of his travels with his wife and children. His most recent blog was concerning cutting his journey short to make it home to be with his failing grandmother. While he was here we made up a gift basket from all of us. Bless Stevens Flowers for always going the extra mile sharing the gifts God gave them in putting this together. We filled this basket with everything we could find about our community. I even put in a patchwork, bling hat that Nikki Stevens Sams crocheted. At the last minute I found a package of colorful band-aids on the counter and asked Debbie Stevens to tuck them in, having no clue what they would be used for. Well of course I knew of their primary purpose, but as a writer I imagined the thought would reach much farther and deeper than the words on the package. You don’t need printed directions to apply or for the adhesive to stick. I just hope and pray he received the message.

I remember reading when Phebe Warner’s husband, Dr. W.A. Warner came in from making countless house calls as the only family doctor for miles around. He told Phebe that these pioneer women “weren’t sick, but homesick and what can we do about it.”  This could only mean they longed for family and memories and neighbors close by. Phebe began the first libraries, and the first Federated Womens clubs in the entire area. She along with Laura Hamner formed Panhandle Professional Pen Women now Panhandle Professional Writers for just that reason. As the wife of a doctor and his personal nurse as well, she was applying band-aids long before they were invented.

I know band-aids hold no magical potion. There is no way they can heal long festering damage already done. But in my thoughts and with their eternal image I know I have absolute proof of a greater healing power.

In the July issue of Reader’s Digest I came across a Memoir in the Book section about “The Secret Life of Objects” by Dawn Raffel that relates how simply powerful any object can be. This also reminded me of my blog written about “Insignificant Objects” and the Blue Bird Restaurant and “Needful Things” next door in Centerville Iowa.

Father’s Day is this weekend, and I invite everyone to give their fathers, along with the tie, or the grilling apron a simple and inexpensive gift. Go to the store and choose a packet of band-aids that they can put in their wallet to carry with them daily as a reminder of whatever they need. Share with them the story of any memories when as a child you needed help. Your mother figure probably was the one in the family who may have applied the band-aid, but it was the dad who provided the means to cover the pain. Also get your dad to bring up thoughts of when he hurt as well. In this day and time I am sure he has many open sores. I, for one will remember when J.D. could have whispered the fire out of a burn.

Continue to make this an annual tradition and tangible evidence to show your dad he means so much more. It will remind him he is quite a wealthy man. “For without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” Yubby, dibby dibby dum.

Sharon Stevens