My dad, who is 85, spent a few months in Spain a couple of years ago, sitting on a deck writing his memoir out by hand on legal pads. He conquered it by writing various topics one after another, and he worked on this most mornings. He wrote about his strongest childhood memories, what it means to him to be a parent and grandparent, and topics like his career and what he learned from his various jobs from floating pulpwood down the Saint John River to his years in the RCMP. He shares sacred family stories about boxing rings, tragic sawmill accidents, midwives and black bears. There is a chapter called “Life’s Teachings” along with one on “Fiddleheads and Butternuts,” and both are immensely valuable reading.
Nothing is written without sitting down and staying put. (That’s the big non-secretive secret to writing). Dad sat down and stayed put. He wrote as if he was sitting beside you across the table at the local pub (another secret to writing well). Dad put in hour after hour and in the end he wrote approximately 22,000 words, called My Story by Russell Durling. The book is printed and available to 30 people worldwide. Those people are his daughters, his sister and brothers, his closest neighbours who ask for a copy, the nieces and nephews (and grand nieces and nephews) who would like one, and his most dear readers, who are his five grandchildren.
In a wonderful moment of “perfect timing” that is served up to us every now and then like dessert, Reader’s Digest assigned me a piece at the same time Dad was at work on his memoir. You can find it right here, and it’s called “How to write a memoir.” I shared Dad’s technique, and also interviewed other experts on memoir who provide practical tips to get your memoir out of your mind and into the hands of your family. Maybe it will help get you moving too?
Watching Dad navigate finding a printer in Truro, N.S., selecting photos and writing captions, and proofreading his own manuscript over and over again with the eyes of an old eagle was such a pleasure. I was impressed with his ability to spot edits that needed to be done, which he credited with hours spent proofing police reports years ago. You just never know how what you learn at work will serve you in other areas of your life.
Dad has created a treasure for his family and friends. Our true stories told with just a little bit of care and attention are precious. We learn so much from each other. We are the experts of our own lives and experiences and with very few exceptions (like really rare and weird exceptions), we are deeply loved by family and friends. We have stories to tell and wisdom to share. If you’ve thought about writing your memoir, sit down and stay put. You might be amazed at what can happen.