How to Help Someone Write Their Memoirs and Why They Should Do It

Rohan Mathew

Writing a memoir about one’s life is something which is traditionally thought of as being only for the likes of famous people. Indeed many ‘ordinary’ folks will probably say, when asked, something along the lines of ‘I’ve done nothing interesting’ or ‘nobody will want to read about my life’.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however. With the current fascination for family history stories and following the recent Great War commemorations many people are realising that their older family members could have a fascinating story to tell.

Why write a memoir?

Family photos tell of holidays and special occasions but the written word can convey so much more than a two dimensional photograph.

As a person moves into their senior years they may look back on their life and feel a maelstrom of emotions – pride, happiness, sadness, regret or simply gratitude for all that they have experienced. When they are asked by grandchildren or other family members or even those who provide companion care, domiciliary care or live-in care, for stories about their life it could be beneficial to set down their memories in written form . For some this can become a burning issue.

Help from a carer

Making the decision to write a memoir is the easy part. The more difficult part is knowing where and how to start sorting through a lifetime of memories and memorabilia. Family members or friends could help of course but there’s a danger they could get caught up in the nostalgia of it all and nothing would get done.

Another solution could be for a care at home provider, one who lives with you, to help with sorting through photos to help you make a start. If you’re a carer who wants to offer extra help, you could direct the writer to a useful help resource for tips on how to write their memoir.

What is a memoir?

Before you even put pen to paper you need to be sure of what it is you’re going to write. A memoir is not an autobiography. It’s not your entire life story, rather it is a snapshot, or series of snapshots, of events which have shaped your life. You may want to focus specifically on what has been drawn from the experience. A memoir is the story of how your personality is shaped.

Helping someone to write a memoir

The first task is to help them make pull out the main subjects which they think are likely to be interesting to a reader. What kind of experiences have they been through to arrive at where they are today? Is there some family trauma or tale of derring-do which played a significant part in their development? Have they travelled extensively or had an unusual experience while travelling, or have they met famous or important people whose circle they joined?

Whatever the writer decides to commit to paper they should always be truthful. If the memoir is intended to be read by family members only they should avoid being overly hurtful but instead should try to convey the emotional impact. If something is particularly painful to remember the writer should be helped to decide whether they really want to relate this. Sometimes writing a bad memory as a fictional or humorous piece helps.

A memoir can be a great thing to engage someone who may be feeling low. Looking back at the interesting and exciting things they’ve done could give an elderly person a real sense of achievement in what they’ve been through and who they’ve become.