Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Many people think memoirs can only be written by those who are famous, have achieved great things, or have been through some incredible ordeal. But while those stories are inspiring, the majority of people will not experience huge once-in-a-lifetime events. Instead, they will experience a series of everyday events that test them and try them and push them to the limits of their strength and courage. Hidden in this daily struggle, the ups-and-downs of the life we all live, are powerful stories we can all relate to. I believe this is a big part of why we are so intrigued by personal blogs, why we are inspired by acts of kindness, why we love to see news stories of normal people who made the choice to make a difference in the world around them, or even who were just at the right place at the right time and chose to help someone in need. We connect with these stories because we can relate to them, and because we feel as if it could have been us.
The truth is, it really could have been us.
My guess is that if you look deeply enough, you will find some way in which you have triumphed in life. If you look carefully enough, you will see a glimpse of your inner hero peeking out. Try it. Think about something you’ve been through, something that perhaps no one knew about but that tested you in some way. Do you have something in mind? Now step back and envision yourself as the hero of a story, with your experiences as the rise and fall of a plot. What was your character arc? What setbacks did you overcome? What weaknesses or character flaws did you start with that were then refined by the fire? What lessons did you learn, or how did your ideas change as a result of your experience? Can you see the story now, your own hero’s journey? If you write that story down as a memoir, you can provide a true story that serves as a guidepost to all others who haven’t yet noticed their own hidden hero. You can become an inspiration.
Memoirs of the everyday person, the everyday hero, can be just as powerful as memoirs of heroic figures well-known to the entire world, because when you share your story of everyday triumph, you show others that they can be triumphant, too. But writing a memoir doesn’t just benefit others, it has strong benefits for you as well.
Still aren’t convinced? Here are 5 reasons YOU should write a memoir:
1. It’s therapeutic.
Writing down your experiences can help you to process your feelings and can even help you cope emotionally and psychologically with what you’ve been through. Some therapists recommend journaling as an emotional outlet, and in the same way, writing a memoir is a cathartic experience. It may even help you identify patterns in your past behaviors, work through complex emotions, and gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your own history.
2. It can be enlightening.
In the course of writing your story down, you may realize things about yourself you had never noticed before, or find that you suddenly have a whole new perspective on events, particularly when writing about things that happened many years ago. Ongoing experiences in the intervening years may have completely changed the way that you perceive and interpret the events of your past. Going through the process of writing these past events down can help you discover new things about who you are, how you have changed, and what you want for your future.
3. It can improve your relationships.
Our experience in writing a memoir included one family member reading our story and, as a result, seeing events in a way she had never seen them before. This resulted in a conversation between her and my husband that brought peace where previously years of tension and frustration had existed. Writing your story down in an authentic way can help those who care about you to better understand what you’ve been through and how your perception of events may have differed from theirs. This can be a huge help in improving, strengthening, and even repairing relationships.*
4. Because your story matters.
Your life matters. While you may feel that yours is an ordinary life, you might be surprised how many others would find your experiences inspiring. There is a very good chance that there are people in this world who need to hear your story. Perhaps your story is so different from theirs that it will spark ideas for how their lives can change. Your story might encourage them in just the right moment, or give them hope when they feel like there is none, or maybe just speak to them as a form of human connection when they are feeling completely alone. Perhaps they will suddenly find that they aren’t as alone in the world as they thought they were, because someone else is going through the same thing they are. And this brings me to #5…
5. It will show you that you are never alone.
Our experience in writing a memoir has been an overwhelmingly positive one. As scary as it was to put our story out there, it has resulted in so many messages from people who said, “I never realized someone else was going through this, too.” Not only did our memoir help those people realize they aren’t alone, it reminded us that we aren’t alone, either.
There are others going through the same experiences as you are – or experiences very much like yours – even if you don’t yet know it. There are people who will understand far more deeply than you might expect, and when that happens, it is both comforting and eye-opening.
You have a story to tell. You might not have won major awards, made your name known around the world, or saved thousands of lives. But you still have a story to tell. You have a story of everyday heroics, of facing your fears, of meeting daily challenges, and of striving to grow and become the best version of yourself. This is a story we all share, and it is in this commonality that these everyday stories find their power.
A writing instructor once told me that the way to move someone with a story is not to write universally so that everyone can understand; in fact, it is the opposite – to write personally, specifically, and intimately. When others read the details of your story, the very individuality of it is what helps them to see themselves in it. For as different as your life may be from someone else’s, there is some small detail, some grain of truth, that will leap out and cause them to gasp, “Me too!” And is that not the point of a story, really – to create a common experience between writer and reader? When you write true to yourself, you may just reveal truths to others also. That is the magic of the memoir.
*I do want to include a caveat here: I recommend always being mindful of others when writing about past events, especially if you plan to publish or publicly post your story. Carelessly including details about others in your story can result in your memoir actually tearing down relationships rather than improving them. Your story may involve other people, but your desire to tell your story shouldn’t force those other people into exposing their story publicly if they aren’t ready to do so. If a story includes personal details of others’ lives, too, my personal rule for riding that balance is this: Ask permission first, and if in doubt, go anonymous (exclude any details that might identify another person). Yes, this means that you may have to be generic at some points of your story, but there is usually a way to communicate the emotional impact without revealing others’ personal details, and for me, respecting others’ privacy is always a top concern. This will go a long way toward preventing negative responses from those who play a part in your story, opening the door for them to read it with a focus on understanding your perspective rather than simply being offended that you’ve written about them without asking. (Not to mention it helps to avoid future legal actions!)