If you've led a particularly interesting life, your memoirs or autobiography could become a popular book. For most of us, though, it's a way to leave something for our descendents. You may think they wouldn't be interested, but wouldn't you love to have such a record of your great-grandparents' or grandparents' lives? Your descendents will feel the same way about you.
Many people assume the best time to write their memoirs is toward the end of their lives, when they'll have time to reflect on what it all meant and to get it all down in beautiful prose. There are several problems with that approach:
1. We don't always know when we're nearing the end of our lives. As you look up and see that anvil somebody has thoughtlessly dropped from their tenth-story window you may think, "Darn! I wish I'd written my memoirs already!"
2. You might get to a very advanced age and still never figure out what it all meant.
3. By then your memory may not be what it was.
4. You could still very busy. Old age seems to be a lot more active affair than it used to be.
A better time to start writing your memoirs or autobigraphy is now. You can start by recording the key points about your past. (By the way, the difference between memoirs and an autobiography is that usually the latter covers your entire life, whereas memoirs often are just about one or more aspects of your life.)
* If your grandparents are still alive and in good enough shape, interview them about their lives. Probably they never got around to writing their autobiographies, either, but you can help preserve some of their memories. If they're self-conscious about being recorded, don't stick a microphone in their face, just put a recorder down (you can use the one on your smartphone) and start chatting. Make it a conversation rather than an interrogation. As you discover the topics you find the most fascinating about their lives, you'll get ideas for what you should cover in the story of yours.
* If your parents are still alive and in good enough shape, do the same with them. Be sure to ask them about the events that took plance in your childhood--and don't be surprised if they don't remember them the same way you do. Interviewing them separately can be very interesting because often they'll have different memories of the same event.
* Decide which way you feel most comfortable recording your memories: writing them down, talking about them into a recorder or a video camera (or webcam), having somebody else interview you.
* You don't need to account for every moment of your life. Three kinds of information will be of particular interest to your descendents: the most dramatic moments (when you met your significant other, your first job--in fact most "firsts" in your life); what a typical day was like for you when you were a chld, a teen, and at different points in your adulthood; and your strong opinions about anything about which you have strong opinions.
* Be specific. Instead of just saying, "I loved going to the movies," for instance, mention the movies you loved the most and why. For me, it was Westerns starring Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys. I thought someday I'd inherit that title. Unfortunately the fact that the Wild West wasn't around anymore and the fact that I was scared of horses got in the way.
SOME PROMPTS TO GET YOU GOING
What's your first memory?
Who was you best friend growing up and what was he or she like?
What was the most memorable vacation you took with your parents?
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
If you had siblings, what was your relationship like?
What do you remember about your parents when you think of your chldhood?
Did you have a hero when you were a kid? Who and why?
What did you love to do when you had free time?
What did you like about school? What did you dislike?
Who was your most memorable teacher?
What do you remember about the places you lived as a child?
Who was your first crush?
What kind of music did you like when you were a teen-ager? Was there one song you really loved?
Were you into sports? Which ones?
Did you have a have favorite book? TV show? Movie?
What was your first job?
What was your first date like?
MAKING IT AUDIO-VISUAL
* If your parents took a lot of photos when you were young, get copies--they're a great way to prompt memories, and you should include them in your memoir or autobiography.
* If they shot 8mm or Super8 or video, you can have those transferred to digital format.
* The same goes for audio recordings on reel-to-reel tapes or casette tapes.
HOW MUCH TO REVEAL?
Should you reveal family secrets, or your own? That's up to you. One option is to have an extra chapter or extra section that you keep private--you can give it to your lawyer and specify in your will that it is not to be read or distributed to any family members until, say, ten years after you've passed away.
WHY NOT GET STARTED NOW?
In future posts I'll go more into the kinds of things you may want to cover about your current life, as well as useful tools and the variety of formats you can use.
For now, how about committing to doing this and setting aside a few hours a week to get started?