The authors of a new book - The Accidental Memoir - have shared this article this us on the importance of writing memoirs and the benefits it can bring.
'It's good to remember your heyday, even the bad memories. To think I lived through that and survived.'
You are the leading world expert on your life. An archive of stories. Why not explore your memories, the fragments, see where they lead? The power and benefits of creative writing and journalling are well documented. Research shows that writing is good for us. It helps us make sense of the world and develop our sense of identity. Any creative act releases endorphins which makes us feel good and even improves our immune system. Creative writing groups allow people to share ideas and stories, they encourage creativity, can push us to explore new ideas and try new ways of writing. Experimentation and play keeps us mentally active.
'The ground was laid with flat stone or clay mixed with lime. We had no electricity, no running water. In winter our horse stayed in the kitchen at night.'
We are storytelling animals. Science is based on narratives, on models that seem to tell the right story. Plays, films, works of art, can all tell us a story and can help illuminate, enlighten and inspire. We all have stories to tell, and we have all lived through a wide range of experiences. Stories bring us together and can tear us apart. Creative writing helps us pay attention. It helps us focus on our lives, memoires, friends, families and on the world around us. Good writing is detailed, specific, it gives things the grace of their names. Natalie Goldberg talks about being detailed when we write. She tells us not to say there's a flower in the window. Is it a daisy, a yellow rose, a dying geranium, a six-foot sunflower? Naming things helps ground our stories, makes them feel real.
'The book prodded me to write, to come out with things I wouldn't normally tell other people because they are too personal.'
Writing your memoir is a gift to yourself and a gift to those around you. Who doesn't want to know more about friends and relatives? As Grace Paley says in her excellent short story, 'Oh how I long to see my mother in the doorway’. It's easy to take life for granted and not to live in the moment. Writing helps us focus, allows us to express ourselves. Words in the head are different from words on the page or screen. We can order, segment, cut and paste, we can fit pieces together. We can give our memories a beginning, middle and end.
'It gets the brain going and makes you feel more like yourself. It helps you forget your everyday problems.'
Writing can help us explore our lives. We can look back and we can at least try in some way to deal with issues and problems. A good writing class or guide will explore the whole range of human emotions. A good teacher will ask you to remember your favourite foods from when you were young, will get you researching your family name. You might write about a time of crisis or change or bereavement, about hopes and dreams. Pen a letter to the future, to the past, to a beloved pet. You might mix truth with fiction but it doesn't matter. The important thing is self-expression, projecting your personality. You'll be writing, and writing is good for the soul.
'I felt a shudder going through my body. I felt he was going to talk to me.'
You never know where the writing will lead. You might start writing about the back of your hand and end up remembering a story about your mother or father. You might write about an autumn leaf, be asked to study it and describe it in detail, then find you go off at a tangent, writing about something bigger, about you, and your life. You might describe your house, a long journey, a failed venture. It doesn't matter. You don't need to start your memoir at the beginning, on page one. Treat it like a collage and fill in the bits and pieces you remember. They will make sense along the way. You will find the thread that holds your life together. Get a pen, get some paper. Write.
'My Greek name is Yiorgio. It originates from yi-or-gos which means farmer. It is humble and uncomplicated. It is based on honesty and trust.’
Article and book by by Eve Makis and Anthony Cropper. Quotes are from George Nicholas (Yiorgo), who began writing aged 80. The Accidental Memoir, a guided journal, is published by 4th Estate.