Memoirs can be written by anyone, regardless of their background or experiences. Hemingway once said, “Any man’s life, told truly, is a novel.” I’ve changed that a bit to say, “Any person’s life, told truly, is a memoir.”
Perhaps you think you haven’t done anything noteworthy enough to warrant a book. But a good memoir isn’t necessarily about someone who’s sailed the Atlantic alone or climbed the world’s seven tallest mountains. One of my favorite memoirs is This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Nothing especially earth-shattering happens in the book, but we can’t forget Wolff’s description of everyday events in a very quirky childhood.
A good memoir is about a universal human experience that everyone can relate to. It’s about someone encountering a universal human problem and coming to terms with it. Not solving it, but coming to terms with it. A good memoir looks in depth at aspects of our everyday lives and draws indelible lessons from that experience. That’s why memoir continues to be one of the most popular book genres in the U.S. We’re drawn to the commonalities in our lives despite, or perhaps because of, our differences.
Yes, certain people may find that writing a memoir is especially beneficial or meaningful. People who have had unique or noteworthy experiences are a natural for writing a book.
I’ve written memoirs for people who’ve founded or rose in the ranks of major companies, who’ve served U.S. presidents, who are at the forefront of challenging professions, and who’ve been witness to major historical events. If you’ve lived through a significant period in history or accomplished something particularly noteworthy, writing a memoir may see like a natural way to share your perspective and insights.
But most of us “average folk” also have experiences worth sharing.
People who have overcome challenges or adversity. That’s just about all of us, in one way or another. Every memoir I’ve ever worked on has addressed some kind of challenge or adverse situation. Sometimes it’s an obvious challenge, like a serious illness or a personal tragedy. But other times it’s not as obvious and it has to be brought out through the writing process. It may involve healing a relationship with a parent. Or understanding for the first time the significance of a difficult past event and finding closure in the process.
People with a desire to leave behind a legacy: Many people write memoirs to leave a record of their lives and accomplishments for their families and friends. Perhaps your children don’t know much about your life or the family’s history. Perhaps you’ve achieved something significant, like founding a company or serving your country in peace and war, and want to preserve that achievement as a legacy for family, friends, and future generations. Passing on your wisdom and lessons learned can be one of the most fulfilling things you ever do.
People looking for self-discovery: I was fortunate to take a writing class some time ago with the novelist Marguerite Young, who told us: “A writer doesn’t decide but instead discovers.” A client was once hesitant to hire me because he hadn’t yet figured out what he wanted to say in his book. I told him there was only so much you could figure ahead of time, that we would have to discover what he wanted to say through the ghostwriting process. You find out what you want to say through the act of writing itself. That is the true joy of working on a book, for both author and ghostwriter alike.
Giving a book some thought? Let’s chat.