In my book, The Gift of Memoir, the twenty reasons I give for writing memoir are culled from the forty-two I offer in my course. The more reasons there are, the more apt you are to finish your story. Not that all forty-two, or twenty, will be valid for everyone. Are there three or four that seem more relevant to you than the others? Those are the ones that will propel you forward into your story and keep you adding to it.
Here, in this post, I have harvested ten of the best from the list of twenty. I thought I had collected all possible reasons for writing memoir, but recently someone suggested another, and I will start with that one. It is an especially poignant and relevant one in our times because so many people are living alone—especially older people.
1. To dispel loneliness. When you write your stories, usually you have someone in mind to whom you are speaking. You have an audience who will one day receive and read your words. This is communication beyond your own mind with whoever may be there.
2. To counteract dying with the permanence of written words that will live on. “Fundamentally,” said Mordecai Richler, “all writing is about the same thing: it’s about dying.”
3. To pass on your wisdom and insights by leaving visible tracks behind you. This is a form of mentoring.
4. To give yourself and your descendants a history. This is why Philip Marchand wrote Ghost Empire: How the French Almost Conquered North America.
5. To heal. “Without memory there is no healing,” said Bishop Tutu.
6. To be sheltered by what is real and true for you. To create a shelter for your spirit, a “parka for your soul,” as Alice Walker calls it in a poem.
7. To play your role in social justice. For example, if you suffered from abuse as a child, break the silence and bring about change. This was the purpose of the over one hundred published slave narratives.
8. It’s not the money, says Thomas King of Canada’s First Nations, who wrote The Truth About Stories. “Maybe it’s a desire to recreate the world.”
9. To increase empathy in the world. Reading a memoir is to walk a mile in another’s shoes, and this fells the barriers between people. Understanding another, who may be quite different from ourselves, decreases stereotyping, which decreases racism, xenophobia and all the other phobias. This in turn reduces violence.
10. To immerse yourself in love. Love for life, love even for the losses, love for language, and love for the literary form that makes sense of it all.
Do someone a favour. Write your story! Leave a bouquet of your thoughts.