I was talking to a business colleague the other day, and he said that I could have a potential client in someone who has an oversized ego. Else, why would they want to be the subject of a memoir?
Funny, but one of the most common threads I’ve found in subjects over the course of my journalism career has been a small ego. I often hear people say, “I don’t see why the paper sent you. Why would anyone want to read my story?”
If a person had an oversized ego, they wouldn’t have a hard time seeing the benefits of writing their life story or memoir. Here are potential benefits from that perspective:
1. You can grow your fan base.
2. Oprah will come calling any day.
3. People will find you even more fascinating.
These are valid benefits, though I suspect most people even with these reasons would find it hard to sustain their motivation to write pages upon pages of their life story.
Let me share some truths about writing a memoir:
1. It’s a lot of work; it’s not for the faint-hearted.
2. It can be downright scary and painful, reliving hard times in your life.
3. Until you get to “The End” you will second guess why you’re even doing this.
Does this mean everyone should just give up and go home? Absolutely not. Because there are more benefits than just an ego trip:
1. It can change your life for the better.
Years ago, before I started writing regularly for the Deseret News, I decided I would take up writing novels again. In my youth, growing up in the Philippines, I would start first chapters, but never really complete an entire story. I couldn’t even open my study table top drawer, it was so crammed with first chapters. When I started writing novels as an adult, I kept going back to a plotline that I’d rehash in various forms and different protagonist names: a Filipino girl comes to America with her mother to go to college.
Well, this story was largely autobiographical, based on my own experience coming to America at the age of 15. After a few dozen tries, I was ready to give up on it. I could never quite complete the story because at some point, the facts would argue with the fiction with my head. “It never happened that way.” “That relative would never have done that.” “You really weren’t that smart/pretty/resourceful.”
So what did I do instead? I finally said to heck with the novel and let me write my memoir. Just the plain, unvarnished truth. I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t show the manuscript to anyone so I felt safe putting down the facts, unedited.
It was like opening the floodgates. Memories came resurfacing that I thought I’d forgotten. After I got the facts down, my fiction began to improve. I could write about other things and not feel like I have to go back to that time in my life for a source of stories.
2. You become a better observer and writer.
Not everyone aspires to be a professional writer. I think it’s safe to say if some can even write a talk for church or a letter to our children before they go to summer camp, they feel good about this.
But it’s a great side-benefit that in writing a book-length project like a memoir, you can become a better observer and writer.
In writing my memoir, I had to pay attention to the details, to use all my senses in describing scenes. I learned how to mine my life for dialogue that showed someone’s character. And afterwards, the habit paid off in writing features for my freelance writing clients.
3. Reliving your ups and downs can be therapeutic.
As I thought back to my childhood and later, my days in Logan, I found myself smiling at the funny parts, aching over the heartbreaks, and more confident in navigating my life from here on because I’d gotten that far. I found meaning behind the ups and downs of my life. I understood my parents better. I understood myself better, and the reasons behind my decisions as a young girl.
There were days when I would give in to tears because some memories hurt. But in doing so, I felt more expressive and empathetic towards my loved ones and in my interactions with others.
4. You see the hand of God in your life.
Many of us wonder, “What is the purpose of life?” and seek ways to discover this through the years. When you tackle a project like a life story or memoir, we see the bigger picture. We see how blessed we truly are, to have survived and even thrived thus far. We see that people were sent to our lives for a purpose, and that everyone is just human, capable of glimmers of divinity.
These are just a few of the benefits of writing our life story or memoir. Afterwards, when we’ve shared our story with the world and Oprah comes calling, well, then that’d be icing on the cake.