Ten Reasons for Writing Memoir

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 whomever 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.


25 comments on “Ten Reasons for Writing Memoir

  1. Thanks for this post, Diane. Good to be reminded to start! Hope to see you at one of my launches! Cheers, Pat

    http://patriciacalder.ca Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2015 08:41:02 +0000 To: patricia321@hotmail.ca

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Diane. A wonderful list and great food for thought. As I read it I reflect that nearly all of these points are good motives for story writing in general; in other words, I see my own motives for writing in this list. I think all forms of writing allow us to reach out and communicate in a thoughtful way, uninfluenced and unimpeded by the various constraints that accompany spontaneous conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great insight into some of the differences between written thoughts and spoken conversation. There seems to be more spaciousness between written words than spoken words. Another writer speaks of the writing “trance” and how that can lead to deeper understanding.


  3. Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “To play your role in social justice.” This brief statement explains precisely why I want to write in the memoir genre. I want to bring about awareness and change in the mental health system and show the long-term effects of child abuse. Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bdlheart: speak your truth or write your truth and the world will be a better place. Let me know when your book is out and I will feature it in a post.


  6. Diane – well articulated. The favourites for me are numbers 3 and 5 and I believe they carry with them a responsibility, a responsibility we all should consider.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Diane, I love all of these reasons, and I’m so excited to now have a copy of your book: The Gift of memoir. Reason #9 touched me the most as I’ve experienced both increased empathy and a deeper understanding of others through reading memoir. Now I’m hooked on reading them and want to write one (or more) too.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀


  8. I hope you find my book useful! I like your comment about empathy.


  9. I love all these reasons for writing memoir. I never realized that some of those motives were hidden deep inside me, unacknowledged. Reading them also made me realize that my own motive for exploring my family is something even more personal: To explain myself. So let me explain:

    My younger sister is the family historian. She has pieced together the family tree but she hasn’t put it in narrative form. So the research is available. At first glance, it seems to be a conventional, unremarkable family. But, looking closer, my attention became focused on my grandfather. I was the eldest born to my parents, and they gave me the same initials as my grandfather, JGM. Unfortunately, he died five years before I was born. As I have learned about him, slowly and anecdotally over the years, I recognize myself. Don’t physical and character traits sometimes skip a generation? My grandfather was a rebel, an agitator, but with a deeply moral and altruistic purpose. He fought his causes not out of personal interest but because he was working for the betterment of society. All the more remarkable because he was a Presbyterian minister. He was a powerful orator — he won prizes for that at the U of T when he attended Knox College. As a minister, he spoke out powerfully against conscription, which made him decidedly unpopular. He was once a candidate for first moderator of the United Church, but then he kept losing postings because he remained too controversial. He died giving his first sermon at his last church in Tillsonburg. His last words were (quote) the world cannot live without Jesus Christ (unquote).

    I have always wondered where my own civic activism came from. My father and mother were not like that at all. But my grandfather certainly was. And that has the making of a story, I think — and I think it would appeal to readers who are perhaps asking the same questions about themselves: Where did I come from, who was influential in making me.

    One of the proudest moments of my life was the wedding of my daughter Anna. When she and Oliver were looking for a church to have the ceremony, they looked at Knox College at U of T, but it could only be used if the family had some connection to that place. I remember Oliver asking me if our family had any, and I said `Why yes, Anna`s great grandfather graduated from there, and my parents were married there in the chapel. And so was my daughter, a gift from beyond the grave from my grandfather. He would be pleased that Anna has inherited our activism directly, and it does not have to skip another generation.

    Sounds like a great story to me. Now all I have to do is write it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting that that you found other possibilities in my ten reasons, because that’s why I put that list together! And I can see that many of them would strike a chord with your grandfather, too.
    John, you have to write this story! What a gift for your family, and for the rest of us (assuming you would go public with it). To see where the seeds of our direction in life come from by going back to the roots, and making those roots visible. Your grandfather’s powerful words were seeds that lay in fallow fields until you came along. And Knox College – patient container of history and possibility. And I’m wondering about your grandfather’s own roots …


  11. Great list! I especially love #10!

    I recently finished my memoir and I am currently editing it. It is amazing to look back on the things we did and feel proud of what we accomplished as well as the obstacles we had to overcome to come out on top.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Congratulations on finishing your memoir! Editing is a really important step, and a sure sign that you are on your way to publication.


  13. I appreciate your rich list very much- thank you!


  14. Love this list. I’m re-posting it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Good list there. I started writing mine as a way of letting out some of the steam, speaking out to shame the devil, helping others heal, perfecting my own healing, to let the devil know I’m no longer ashamed of my past….


  16. Writing my memoir was one of the most gratifying and humbling things I have done. Have people purchase it, read it, and write the reviews they have written is the wonderful icing on top.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. There are actually loads of particulars like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I supply the ideas above as basic inspiration however clearly there are questions like the one you convey up the place the most important factor might be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if finest practices have emerged round issues like that, however I’m positive that your job is clearly recognized as a fair game. Each boys and girls really feel the influence of just a second’s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I thik number 10 reasonates with me the most! Thank you for this timeless wisdom.


  19. I’m not surprised number 10 is the one you picked! xo


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