You’ve led such an interesting life, everyone tells you. You should write a memoir! And you have to agree. You’ve had a lifetime of extraordinary experiences.
So go ahead. Write a memoir. Put your life together, sum it all up. Give it to your kids and grandkids.
Maybe you’ve even sat down at the computer or with pen and paper. You may have taken notes, jotted down a few sentences. I was born, you start. My parents met. But the page or screen stares back like an accusation. It doesn’t flow. It seems like a slog.
A friend with whom I sometimes walk has been writing his memoirs for several years, since his wife passed away. How is it coming, I asked him recently. Pretty good, he says. Probably a year to go. I look back at him. That’s what he told me six months ago. He turns 98 this month, karma willing.
I hope he makes it—for his son’s sake as well as his own. But the blank page intimidates us all.
So I’m going to propose a radical suggestion. Stop. Give up. Don’t write your memoirs.
Instead, tell your stories.
You know, the ones you regale people with at parties or over dinner. The ones people laugh at or shed a tear over and then tell you again that you should write a memoir. The ones your kids, when they were kids, clamored for you to repeat. Tell us how you and Daddy met. Tell us about Grandma. Tell us about when we were born.
Memoirs are hard, but stories are easy. We tell them all the time. And over time, as stories accumulate, one by one, they begin to encompass your life. They become, well, a sort of memoir.
Photo credit: www.oneleftmedia.com
That’s why two colleagues and I created Retrospect, the free website (whose blog you’re now reading) dedicated to helping people tell their stories. Each week we post a prompt—a suggested topic designed to evoke memories and feelings. Typical prompts might be “Grandparents,” “Halloween,” or “First Day of School.” We invite our community to write short, true stories in response to the prompt.
You are welcome to keep your stories private, or to share them only with family and friends. We encourage you, however, to share with the whole community, who are also sharing stories on the same prompt. That’s where the magic happens. Together, all the stories on the site form a mosaic of our shared experiences.
You’ll find the community friendly and supportive. We set community standards and take them seriously. We designed Retrospect to feel like you’ve joined a lively dinner party of old friends and amiable strangers, where amid tasty food and flowing wine the conversation turns to young love or old TV shows or lessons learned, and everyone chimes in with their best story.
And, as at a dinner party, writing skill or style isn’t required. What matters is telling your story authentically as it happened to you, in your own words and in your own voice. All of us can do that.
There’s a personal satisfaction to telling your stories on Retrospect, amplified by positive feedback you get from friends, family, and the community. Research shows that writing down your stories can benefit your health and wellbeing. But it’s also a priceless gift you can give to your children and grandchildren. If that seems unlikely, imagine if today you somehow received a booklet of stories from your grandparents, relating key moments and experiences from their lives. What a treasure that would be.
So don’t write your memoirs—tell your stories! Click the logo above to go to the home page and see how others are compiling their own memories, experiences, and wisdom. Then just sign up for free and start sharing! (Click Get Started for an easy, quick guide to telling your stories on Retrospect.)
John Unger Zussman is a psychologist, a creative and corporate storyteller, and a co-founder of Retrospect.