Why Write a Memoir?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably have said to yourself, over and over, “I’d really like to write, but…” OR “Someday, I’m going to write…”

I think that writing down your family history is one of the most important things you could ever do. We all know friends or even family members who have always told such fascinating stories, but nobody ever wrote them down, so when they pass on, the stories are gone forever. Sometimes it’s just because, when you’re young, you think “Oh, there goes Grandpa, telling that old story again…” And you fail to realize the importance of it.

Many times I looked at the old photo albums my dad had that my grandmother had put together, but never thought about how important that era was, or how important it might be to me, and how I turned out as a human being. But one little tidbit did stick in my mind all those years—and that was the fact that back in the 1920s in Montana, my tiny grandma—about 5’2 and maybe all of 102 pounds—had ridden steers in rodeos. I couldn’t get it out of my head. That certainly was not something I ever aspired to do—even as big as I am!

So, I started to delve into her life story. And I have found it utterly fascinating. I chose to write it as a novel, but there is so much fact in it, so much from my grandparents’ and my dad’s life. This has resulted in three novels and a non-fiction book about old-time cowgirls in Montana. And in the process, my dad started writing down some of his memories of growing up.

You must have some of those stories floating around. Whether you write them down—just notes or a timeline or a regular story—or if you tell them to another person or into a recorder, I encourage you to do it. Don’t let your family history be lost.

A memoir puts a frame onto life by limiting what is included. It may be a particular period in your life, for example, your childhood, your adolescence, or your fabulous fifties.

An autobiography covers an entire life from birth to the present.


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.


Dr Bob Rich said...

Hi Heidi,
My latest book is not an autobiography -- sort of.
All the things the main character reports from his past have occurred to me, with only some of the names changed. However, his personality is not quite mine.
There is a standard psychotherapeutic technique: you ask the client to construct a film script (or in this case, a novel), whose star is what the client would like to be. That's what I've done in this book.

Karen Cioffi said...

I've started a couple of memoirs, but never followed through. I think memoirs become more important to us as we get older. I wish I had written about my family when my grandparents, aunts, and uncles were still alive. All that history is gone.

Writing a memoir or family history preserves special tidbits of your life for your children and grandchildren.

I also like Dr. Bob's approach to writing a 'kind of' memoir.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

I like doing short memoirs or Flash memoirs. See


Heidiwriter said...

That sounds great, Bob. There are many ways to write your stories.

Heidiwriter said...

Excellent, Mary Jo. If we do bite-sized pieces, it makes it so much easier.

And Karen, I agree, most of us don't get interested in family history until it's too late. But it's never too late to record what you do remember.

Kathleen Moulton said...

Heidi, I enjoyed reading your post. Thank-you for getting me thinking!


Magdalena Ball said...

Everyone has a unique and fascinating story, Heidi. As you rightly put it, preserving family history (and writing it well so that it resonates with others) is a wonderful thing to do.

Shirley Corder said...

Heidi, thanks for this. Like Karen, I have so much fascinating family history that has now died. Like my father-in-law who shortly before he died told a family member how he had travelled the length of South African in an ox wagon as a little boy. Oh how I wish I'd caught the first plane to his bedside armed with a tape-recorder! What an amazing story he would have had to tell. I know nothing except for that little snippet.

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