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Writing Your Memoir in Retirement

Posted on 
January 2, 2023

For most of us, the holiday season brings back many fond memories and stirs up reflections more than any other time of the year. Families gather to reminisce and tell old stories, and the long winter nights offer plenty of time to ruminate. After a life well lived, older adults have a lot of memories and a lot of wisdom—so writing a memoir can be a perfect activity to stay active and share your experiences.

Here at Falcons Landing, we witness the joy these memories bring to our residents during retirement, and we know first-hand many of the amazing stories our residents have, from their years in the military or government service to prestigious careers to traveling the world. In addition to these exciting experiences, our residents are often the last link to old family lore.

A memoir gives you a chance to record what’s stored in your mind, entertain readers with exciting tales, and leave a lasting memory for your children and grandchildren. If that sounds intriguing but you don’t know where to start, read on!

What Is a Memoir?

The word memoir comes from the French word “mémoire” which means “memory.” Celadon Books defines a memoir as a narrative, written from the perspective of the author, about an important part of their life. While it’s often confused with an autobiography, they’re not the same.

An autobiography covers the story of your entire life and focuses mainly on facts. It might start by recording your family lineage and then tell your life story in chronological order from birth to retirement. A memoir, on the other hand, only covers part of your life and takes on a more personal style of storytelling that includes your thoughts, emotions and perspectives.

Rather than a straightforward chronology of your life, a memoir offers a pattern of memories around a common theme, such as raising a family, managing your career, reflections on where you’ve lived, travel stories or other common themes.

Tips for Writing a Memoir

You don’t have to be a world-famous author to write a memoir. In fact, you don’t have to be a writer at all! Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes, was in his mid-sixties before he began writing his memoirs. Whether you aspire to write an entire book or just want to record some memories, here are six tips to get you started:

  • Avoid writing your entire autobiography. Don’t try to capture your entire life; instead, isolate a particular moment or event in your life that you’d like to write about and focus your attention on that. This can include a life-changing moment, great achievement,  milestone or particularly emotional memory.
  • Create a sensory experience. You want the reader to engage with your writing and follow the story to the point where they can put themselves in your shoes and feel as if they were a part of the experience.  One of the best ways to do so is by including vivid descriptions and details that appeal to all the senses. Write as if you were recounting the experience to a good friend. The more you write, the easier it will become.
  • Don’t start at the beginning. We’ve all seen movies that jump right into the action or conflict. What does that do? It makes us want to continue watching to find out how the characters got to that point. It’s also the reason why prequels to some of the most famous movies are so highly anticipated. Do the same with your memoir to grab the reader’s attention. Start with a compelling story and fill in the details as you go along.
  • Use fiction-writing techniques. While memoirs are a non-fiction style of writing, you can use techniques used in fiction writing to make it more interesting. This can be done without changing the meaning or main idea. Memories are unreliable, so you might not remember exact conversations. Because your job is to have fun first, it’s okay to capture the essence of the dialogue in a particular memory, and it’s okay to tell us a house was blue even if you can’t remember for sure. Those details create a scene and make the prose compelling.
  • Collapse your characters and events. Stick to the main characters and events and only mention them in so far as they are instrumental to the story. Too many additional characters and details that don’t add to the main idea will soon become confusing and simply aren’t needed. Think about how you would tell a story to a friend over coffee. Instead of “My cousin Dave, who was actually a step-cousin-once-removed on account of Aunt Sue being remarried to Uncle Wendell, I think back in 1944,” it’s ok to go straight into the story: “My cousin Dave once set a barn on fire.”
  • Write every day. Any great author will tell you that one of the best tips when it comes to writing any piece of content is to write every day. One way to get that done is to work it in as part of your routine. Set a daily goal for yourself and work to achieve it, whether it's the number of words you want to write each day or the number of pages you would like to complete. Consistency will be key in completing your memoir.

Writing Prompts for Inspiration

Using the tips we’ve just covered, start thinking about what you’d like to include in your memoir. Sometimes it may help to get an outsider’s perspective. You’d be surprised at what others can learn from your life and what they would like to know. Feel free to ask friends and family for suggestions.

Additionally, use the following prompts to get an idea of where to begin:

  • Consider the most memorable experiences that come to mind with little thought regardless of what they are or when they happened.
  • Think of persons who are important to you or have had a particularly influential role in your life such as parents, grandparents, siblings and childhood friends.
  • Look back on all the places you lived and locations in general that hold a specific significance or importance for you.
  • What life-changing events have you witnessed? Think of pleasant, unfortunate and otherwise.
  • Sort through your old photos and write about one that inspires a vivid memory.

Recommended Fountain Pens to Get Started

Once you start writing, you may soon find that your memoir becomes a passion project that renews your sense of purpose. Once you’re done and have made the necessary changes, take things up a notch and rewrite your memoir in a beautiful notebook with the extra personal touch of having it in your handwriting using a high-quality fountain pen.

Here are 5 pen recommendations to consider:

Make and Capture Memories at Falcons Landing

Our beautiful campus and welcoming residents make Falcons Landing the perfect place to retire, create even more memories and connect with like-minded individuals. If you join us, you can take advantage of all our green spaces and common areas on campus to stay active or work on projects such as writing a memoir. Schedule a tour today and come see all that we have to offer. We can’t wait to hear your stories!

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