Writing a memoir can be a self-education
Like many older adults, my motivation for writing a memoir was to clear up questions my children have about my past.
In the 1960s I was a leftist radical. Today I’m a conservative. How did that happen, they want to know?
I was surprised what I learned about myself in writing the memoir, and you might be, also.
Don’t let anyone fool you: Writing a memoir is not easy. I’ve talked to people who start writing –– stream of consciousness — with no plan. They end up with hundreds of pages that are unreadable because there’s no order or logic to what they’ve dredged up.
As someone who considers himself a writer, with seven self-published novels to his credit, I knew planning what I was going to write was essential. My key decision was to narrow the scope of the memoir.
In order to answer my children’s questions, I didn’t want to write whole chapters on family history, my public-school years, college years, etc.
Of course, I had to provide at least some background for readers who pick up the book and have no idea who I am. As a result, I decided to include one introductory chapter and then jump into the issue at hand: What was my role in the major political events that took place in the 1960s?
That took several chapters to explain, but knowing my focus was my transition away from my youthful worldview, I could stick to the highlights and describe what caused my thinking to change.
In the end, I had eight chapters, with the last one summarizing my political philosophy and how I look at our world today. I added 10 book reviews and opinion pieces I’ve published in recent years on current topics, including racism, affirmative action, socialism and Israel.
It was when it came time to writing the last chapter that I learned the most about myself. Having to put down on paper my current beliefs made me aware of what has been consistent over my entire life and which ideas changed.
Keep in mind that, in writing a memoir, you will have to deal with difficult topics, such as major turning points in your life. That can be emotionally challenging.
One suggestion is not to let people who knew you back then read your drafts. You don’t want someone else’s view of events to influence your memories.
You might not think your life deserves a memoir, but your family and friends may think otherwise. They’ll thank you no matter what you come up with, and you might learn more about yourself in the process.
Pollak self-published his memoir Left to Right in August. Read more about the author and his books at petergpollak.com.